Tuesday, November 22, 2016

All Who Walnut are Not Lost

Today is Walnut Tuesday.  Here is a brief history of our infamous made-up holiday:

Family interest in walnuts began one New Year's Eve when my dad dressed up as Father Time and his father-in-law (or soon to be FIL) dressed up as Baby New Year.  Sadly, there is no photo-graphical documentation of this party that I am aware of.   Anyway, my dad invented "alternative walnuts" leaving guests to wonder how did that penny get inside my nut?

During my childhood, alternative walnuts were resurrected to expand our celebration of the holidays.  One day, I innocently grabbed a walnut from the constant Christmas stash available in the kitchen.  Cracking it open I found raisins and an exceptionally innocent-looking father gazing on.

Alternative walnuts enjoyed a brief resurgence, entertaining cousins, aunts and uncles alike, even making appearances in other people's pockets, houses and nut bowls.  The longest known surviving alternative walnut lasted, I believe, into the spring, when a family friend absent minded-ly cracked it open.  It spilled mini M&M's across her kitchen floor and he heart into her throat.  People began keeping careful watch.

So the tradition ended again, the secret spoiled.  Dad started working early mornings instead of the 4-midnight shift. One is much more motivated to perfectly crack nuts and glue them together again over beer at 1am.  It's hard to find time to do such crafty cleverness when one now must wake up at 3am.

There are many more layers to this phenomenon that I could explain even if I had the time and word count. So I will jump to the Tuesday part.

My dad grocery shops on Tuesdays.  He always has as far as I can remember.  I think he would often hit a different store for a few things on Saturdays, but I can't be sure.  He has his way about him, my father.  And so, on the Tuesday before Thanksgiving we could guarantee the appearance of walnuts in the house for the holidays.

Upon pointing this out, dad was quick to counter that some years he would buy walnuts the Tuesday before the Tuesday before Thanksgiving.  If the Tuesday before Thanksgiving falls less than one month before December 24th (i.e. Thanksgiving is on the 27th and so the Tuesday before was the 25th) it would be too "late" to buy the walnuts and so he would purchase them the week before.  Maybe it also has something to do with the moon.

Anyway, once we grasped this not so confusing, but really quite confusing, concept it became crystal clear when the walnuts would appear.  Apparently the nut does not fall too far from the tree and so one such Tuesday, I called my family from college and wished them a clever, "Happy Walnut Tuesday!"  The great holiday was born.

As I like to think, my dad was so inspired by my coning that he ran full steam and started getting sneaky again.  Walnut Tuesday wreaths (yes, we made one) appeared mysteriously on his brother's door.  His sister (long time Catholic church secretary and capable choir member) revamped a popular hymn walnut style and sang it to us on the answering machine.  Alternative walnuts reappeared with fortunes inside. I made walnut turtles and turkeys.  My mom made intricate three-dimensional walnut-shaped cookies. Someone wrote, "Twas the night before Walnut Tuesday," which, if I remember correctly, was read at the first Walnut Tuesday dinner.  Such was the event that my dad (remember how he has to get up at 3 am?) took off the following day so that he could fully imbibe in the festivities.

Which began including squirrels.  And walnut measuring and comparing with reigning champions and contenders.   And walnut liqueur.  And always champagne.  Because what is Walnut Tuesday??  A celebration of creativity and a kickoff to the winter holidays, the walnut a vehicle for the nutty.  It welcomed anyone who understood it including one of my mom's harp students who just happened to be at our house on the Monday before Walnut Tuesday. (The year my uncle and his husband surprise gifted my father a taxidermy squirrel with an acorn in its mouth.)  She was hooked.

Upon the dawn of social media, people with little knowledge or involvement began to wish me Happy Walnut Tuesday via text and Facebook.  My mother-in-law sewed for us, not just one, but two walnut themed table linens.  I had to explain it to my kids.  Every year, I received questions, not only from them, but from all sides of my life.  Which Tuesday is it this year?  What are you doing to celebrate?  I saw a walnut tart recipe and thought of you!  Have you ever made one?

It became clear that we really had made up our own holiday, one many did not get at all.  But they got that we got it.  And that was enough.

We celebrated at least four dinners over the years.  We ate walnut crusted chicken and green beans "walnutdine."  We started with blue cheese and walnut spread and green salads with fruit and, stay with me now, walnuts.  And my sister, once she moved away, started hosting her own dinners with friends.  They, too, embraced our holiday and welcomed it to Philadelphia (worrying my dad that Walnut Tuesday was becoming "too commercial.")  In recent years, it was my sister's crew that has really kept the momentum going (oh, the energy of the young and childless!)

This year isn't looking great for the walnuts.  My sister is on her honeymoon.  And a critical mass of us are so rarely together on the day anymore that the wind has gone out of our squirrel-y sails.  I know my dad will still buy a bag though.  And I will try to, as well (though walnuts might be too exotic for Ohio.  I'm kidding new Ohio friends (if I still have any after they read this...)) Maybe my sister will find some walnuts in California (she did include them on her wedding invitation, hazaah!).  Haha, maybe my dad secretly sent her off with some...

You never know.  The walnut has waxed and waned over the years.  It's just the way of it.  Cycle of life type stuff.  But fear not: it's not dead, it's just hibernating.

Waiting for the next crazy thing we come up with...

Happy Walnut Tuesday, everyone!!!  

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

A Fish Called Walter

In the frustrated flurry of the previous week, we lost track of our fish.  I mean, we knew where he was.  His clever little puzzle-piece-shaped habitat sits on a table in our kitchen.  We aren't sure how much Walter can really see, but we thought he would prefer the activity and warmth of the kitchen over, for example, the upstairs bathroom.  

We try to keep his little life as interesting as possible.  We talk to him.  We aggravate him just enough to keep him on his toes (fins).  We shift his Charlie Brown tree to a new spot every time we clean his space. And we place items next to him on the table to liven his day.  Most recently, we placed a bright orange baby pumpkin to serve as his "view".

But somehow, despite our oddly involved fish parenting style, we couldn't figure out how long it has been since he had eaten.  I remembered the girls pointing out leftover floating food a few days ago.  But had he eaten after that?  No one could quite be sure.  All we knew was that he had been hiding in corners a bit more than usual and refused to eat any breakfast that specific morning.  

It was clear he saw the food drop in.  It was clear he was not interested at all.  Walter once "bit" my finger when I decided to tease him with it instead of food.  He loves to eat.  I think all beta fish do and we try to be careful not to overfeed the little guy.  We are not sure they know their limits.

But apparently, they do.  When they get backed up.  

After the girls went to school and the hubs went to work I sat down to diagnose Walter.  Crouching down and pressing my face against the glass (plastic) I eyed our newest family member.  His fins and coloring looked good.  Everything else was pretty normal except for "lethargy" and "refusal to eat."  It really did appear, based on my super biological observation skills and the internet, that he was constipated.

Which...can be fatal for a fish?!?

I set to work.  Walter was not going to die on my watch (I mean, not right now.  He probably will, eventually, since he's going to die and he's on my watch more than anyone else's).  I was still feeling super guilty about the time he flopped out of the net and onto the counter (shh).  The webpage said that if the issue was caught early enough it was easy to fix and "your fish will be back on track in a few days."  

So I cooked one frozen pea.  Do you know how sad one frozen pea looks floating in a little dish of microwaved water?  Well it looks pathetic, but this is what the internet insisted I do.  After I shelled the booger and cut it into beta-sized bits, I dropped one into the very small tank.  The site promised that the bright color would be enough to entice the fish to bite despite its condition.

Walter watched the antidote sink to the bottom.  Literally.  His eyes moved from hopefully looking at the surface to sinking, like a piece of pea apparently does, all the way to the gravel .  Great, I thought.  Walter is going to die.  He even looked out in my direction.  Which I read as, "Lady, thanks for trying, but it's too late for me."

But, I wasn't going to give up yet.  I dropped another bit for him.  This time he nabbed it like a ninja right out of the air (water).  And then he swam down and ate the first piece, too.  I figured, since he is only the size of a large paper clip, that two pieces of pea was plenty for an already-filled-up fish.  Walter and I regarded each other.

Alright, buddy, I thought.  Now you gotta poop.  

Side note: beta fish poop out of the necks!  Like right below their gills...the poop comes out right there!  

Well, despite careful observation for most of the rest of the day I never saw Walter pop a fish squat.  But the website said it might take a few days.  I resolved not to feed him until the following morning.

Which brings us to today.  Walter seemed much more agile when I first checked on him this morning and I was cautiously encouraged that he had done the deed and would be okay.  I fed the girls breakfast.  I fed the dogs breakfast.  I fed myself breakfast (miracle)!  And then I walked over to Walter.  As I approached he swam over.  Are fish really this with it?  I am known for anthropomorphizing almost anything, especially animals, but he seriously seems gifted.  People probably always think their fish is the smartest.  I dropped one teeny tiny pellet of fish food into the water.   

And he swam right over and ate it!  I fed him two more (his typical meal) and he ate both of those too!!

I panned the gravel for a new present, but saw none.  Hopefully Walter got it done and is "back on track."  If not, I have a whole bag of peas in the freezer to get him going again.

Walter is a tough fish to read.  Does he still look constipated to you?

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Do All the Good, But Take a Nap First

As detailed in a previous post, my brain "broke" after the mass shooting in Orlando.  The result, long story short, was I decided to direct my energies toward the presidential election.  After all, I now live in the battleground state of Ohio.  It seemed right to fight.  My thought was that lawmakers, especially those all the way at the top, would be our best defense against the continued abuse of and obsession with firearms in this country.

And now, our president-elect, is deeply between the sheets with the NRA.  They paid 30 million dollars in campaign donations for a piece of Trump's ass and that's what they got.  Guns for you!  Guns for me!  Guns for everyone!  Oh, and guns in schools.  Brilliant.

This is only one of the many issues tying knots in my stomach and creasing concern across my forehead.  I am devastated that our country will soon be in the hands of an administration with hate on their to-do list and a blind pilot in the cockpit.  But I will not despair.  So I got out our new machete.

I abhor violence, but it felt so refreshing to hack down every perennial in my yard this weekend.  I live in the country now, folks.  I hack down things with machetes and put my gardens to bed with conviction.

It also felt refreshing to google charities right here in Geauga County.  Realistically (and practically) there is only so much hacking to be done.  I need another outlet for my energies.  My weeknights no longer include phone banking and my weekends no longer include canvassing.  Campaign let down was sure to come either way because I have leaned on such work as my "reason for being in Ohio."  Well, the campaign is over.  And I'm still here!

I want to do all the good.  I also want to adopt all the puppies.  But time, energy and resources are limited. So.  To quote HRC (because I'm still with her, duh) quoting John Wesley: "Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can." (italics added by moi...full Wesley quote below*)

We can't do much good while we mourn and fret.  But I think it is important that we do.  This is a big deal. Is the US going to sink into the ocean?  No.  But are rights going to be stripped, resources misdirected, families profiled and divided???  We will certainly find out.  And we will certainly do our part to combat injustice.

But in the meantime, here is my advice: take a nap, take a break, take a breath.  Don't rush right out and give money or volunteer or plaster everything with safety pins out of sheer emotion related to this election. Regardless of who is president, love is a long game.  Bust out your Gatorade.  We need you in tip top shape.

So please try to march slowly and calmly and steadily through the rest of this year.  Finish raking leaves. Build a bonfire with friends.  Make two kinds of stuffing for Thanksgiving.  Hug your spouse and count to 10.  Kiss your kiddos until they squirm.  Give the pup some peanut butter.  Light a candle and sit in the quiet and the dark.  Acknowledge the power outside of yourself and pray.  

And then ask for a punching bag for Christmas.

We have always had a lot to do to feed the flow of light and love and peace and unity.  And I am afraid it just got harder.  

So rest up, friends.  Take heart and take care of yourselves and your own.  And then when you're ready...

“Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can”*

Personally, I am leaning towards training to be a volunteer at a local organization called WomenSafe whose mission is to: 

"provide free support to anyone experiencing violence in their home or dating relationship. This includes comprehensive programming for adults and children including counseling, art therapy, court advocacy, hospital advocacy, outreach services and aftercare. WomenSafe offers all services completely free of charge."

But I am going to take some time to think about it.  How will you be helping next year?

Stop googling for a bit.  Refresh.  Regroup.  And then, re-enter the fray.

“Do all the good you can. By all the means you can. In all the ways you can. In all the places you can. At all the times you can. To all the people you can. As long as ever you can.”

― John Wesley, Anglican cleric and theologian who, with his brother and fellow cleric, founded Methodism.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

One or None

Like many of you, I look forward to the end of this election season.  I am ready for us to move on.  I am ready to turn our eyes toward other important issues facing our nation and world today.  But, we still need to elect a new president.  I pray the results land lightly and decisively, whatever they may be.

My mom shared this line she heard recently, "We can see the light at the end of the tunnel.  Let's hope it's not the train."

No one (in their right mind) wants to be pulverized against metal train tracks by metal train wheels.  And so, who ever you are planning to vote for (national, state and local government) you have your reasons.  Reasons you believe keep you and yours headed in the right direction.

We all approach these decisions with different stories behind us and ways of life before us.  While we may not understand each others' decisions we need to take the time to think about how someone arrived at their place of decision.  Most people don't simply pull a name out of a hat.  They have a feeling (sometimes visceral) that propels them down a certain line of thought.  And from that place they choose to support one candidate over the other, one party over the other.

We need to respect this, even honor this.  People are people are people.  We have all been disappointed, hurt, confused, and, sadly, often worse: betrayed, abused, lost.  We have all been drawn to different causes, injustices and wrongs.  How wonderful!  A full body of people collectively caring about the world.

But then we disagree on how to move forward.

We shout our opinions over other opinions.

We don't listen to each other.

We get off track.

Passion over a legitimate concern turns to anger, blame, distrust, fear, violence, death threats?

We shut down.

Our spirits die.

If only we could go back to a time when every thing was simpler and problems were simpler and people were simpler and technology was simpler and our jobs were simpler and raising a family was simpler and our minds were simpler and we gulped Coca-Cola Classic from a glass bottle.  Everything was in black and white.  Like television.

Everyone knows (even if it's deep down in their belly buttons) that this is impossible.  For example, my family and I could move to back to Baltimore, sure.  But it wouldn't be the same!  Some of the good things would still be there, but so would some of the not so good.  And I know (even though some times I have to search down deep in my belly button) that the best choice for me and my family is to keep moving forward from where we are right now.  Forwarding our ties and relationships, our purposes and our pleasures from this place.  Not losing steam and letting ourselves roll back.

I doubt it's my story alone, but I can't see the benefit of allowing ourselves to be ruled to move and make decisions based on fear and distrust of the way things are now, pining for the past.   Not liking some things? Sure.  Disagreeing with some things?  Totally.

Wanting to work to reform, change, better, progress?

Giddy up.

Call me naive, but I am a believer.  I am a believer in the best of people.  I am a believer in hope and justice and peace.  I am a believer in equality and the power of goodness.  And (to use a simple word) dag-nabbit, I am a believer in politics.  Which basically means I am a believer in community, groups of people living and loving (and learning) and working and worrying (and re-working) together.

During this campaign season, I have spent most of my time volunteering in the Geauga County Democrats Headquarters.  Walking into this place, you know it's been around since "times were simpler."  The large gathering side of the office is lined with blue vinyl booths and the tables and bar area are lined with chrome. But the activity in this place is far from simple despite the fact that Geauga is the reddest county in Northeast Ohio.  There are people in this place fighting for the county parks and community centers, celebrating financial donations from local unions and debating next steps to forward local campaigns for County Commissioner.

And then there I am, on the other side of the wall making quiet calls for Hillary.  Of course I feel that what I am doing matters and is important.  But the real action happens on the streets in our own neighborhoods and towns, not turned inward and balled up under our desks.  Here I go believing again, but truly, if we want to grow in unity we need to move from the inside out, from the local to the national, from the national to the global.  

Simply, I believe that this is what God, the One who creates and sustains us all, is using us to accomplish.  Unity.  And when I say unity, I don't mean uniformity, not by any means.  The beauty of unity is that it is not uniform.  Unity takes all kinds of people and places and ideas and beliefs and rolls them into a beacon of light and love. Uniformity is boring and flat and not dynamic enough to move mortar much less mountains.  

Unity: a school humming along and delighting in learning, a family prioritizing each other and delighting in loving, a town overlooking party lines and delighting in serving.

So yes, I look forward to the end of this election season because I am ready for us to move on.  I am excited for us to move on!  Some one has to be.  I believe we can (and will!) move past this season of painful divisiveness and continue building toward united-ness.  

Praise God, we have no other choice.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

I Hope You Find Me: The Night Women Took Another Step


"Yes, hi!  Is Sandy available, please?"

"This is she.  May I ask who is calling?"

"Of course!  My name is Kristin and I am a volunteer with Geauga County Democrats.  We are so excited here at the office celebrating Secretary Clinton's official nomination and..."

"Oh, I know!  Isn't it wonderful?  I was just watching myself."

"We were too, we were too.  And actually the reason I am calling tonight is to invite you and your family to a fabulous event on Saturday.  Hillary and Tim's first appearance after the convention.  They..."

"They are coming to Ohio?  Right after all of this?"

"They sure are!  Right down the road. I hope you will be able to join us.  It promises to be a great rally!"

"I get to be there?"

"If you would like.  I am happy to give you all of the information."

"Yes.  Yes.  I wouldn't miss it.  My mother was born before women could vote and I..."  She trails off.  She has no other words...

"So, you'll come?!"

"Of course, my goodness, of course.  I wouldn't miss it.  Are you going to go too?"

"Absolutely.  I am going to bring my daughters."

"And I'll ask mine!"

"Please do.  That's a great idea.  I'll look for you."

"I hope you find me.

"I did tonight."


And just like that, July 26, 2016 became a day I will never forget.  A day I sat in a tiny democratic party office in what, to me, still seems like the middle of nowhere.  A lively, yet kind place in a very red county in the historically battleground state of Ohio, my new home.

Hung merely 96 years ago...we've come a long way, baby!

(this conversation is based on an actual conversation I had with an 81-year-old woman on the evening our country nominated its first female presidential candidate.)

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

It's About God

Two Sundays ago, in church, I found myself with, what seemed at first, a silly semantics problem.  As everyone else sang, "Our God saves" over and over again for more times than I could count, I just couldn't.  Instead, I leaned into my husband and whispered what I couldn't contain.  I said to him, "It should just say "'God, You save.'"

He grinned and inadvertently egged on my already cooking brain.

I thought about this all day, during the rest of the service, at the store, in the garden, during dinner.  Does the word "our" work in these types of songs or not?  Sunday worship is collective.  So "our" is accurate, right? But, if we say "our God" doesn't that imply that He is not everyone's God?  Regardless, it had spurred my thoughts for sure.

For example, my sister and I can say, "That is our dad up on the stage." He has no other children.  He is no one else's dad.  He is ours, not yours.  He is our dad.

So when we sing, "Our God..." isn't that intimating that there are also other gods?  Or that there are people for whom He is not God?

I believe in one God, one overarching power.  Maybe you do too.  Maybe you call Him God, like I usually do.  Or maybe you call Him/Her "Spirit", "Creator", "Lord", "Mother", "Father", "Universe."  Please call God what you will.  Where I have written "God" insert your own name for Him.

Christianity believes in one God.  A God that reveals Himself in three main ways: Father (Creator, Sustainer), Son (Friend, Brother), Spirit (Counselor, Comforter).  But one God all the same.  A God that also reveals Himself through nature, love, words, music, art, religion, relationship.  The list could be as long as the experiences we have.

As a result, we each (every single one of us) have come to know and understand different things about God. What you know about God is different than what I know, than the Pope knows, than John Stewart knows, than Oprah knows.  And just by being on this Earth, living the gift of life, we all know something about Him. Whether you acknowledge Him or not.

Collectively, we know God better than we know God on our own.  Often, the core of our being is screaming to share what we know, what we have learned.  We reveal what we know in a similar way to how God reveals Himself: cultivating nature, love, words, music, art, religion, relationship.  Read books?  Listen to music? Explore nature?  Felt a feeling? You have seen God.

I am not saying that you believe one version of God and I believe another.  It is not your God, my God, our God.  It's GOD.  God is so wildly huge and amazing it takes all of us (and more!) to even begin to comprehend Him.  God is bigger than what you know, than I know, than the Pope knows, than John Stewart knows, than Oprah knows.

God is God is God is God.

No matter what we believe, what we say, how we think, or how we act, God remains the same.  Everyone is studying the same "God", "Spirit", "Creator", "Lord", "Mother", "Father", "Universe."

Everyone.  Some more obviously or actively than others.  But everyone.

So that other morning when we (well everyone else) sang "Our God saves" it felt wrong.  Like the church I was standing in, or this "Christian religion group" I am in, was trying to claim God as theirs and theirs alone. Or claim Him in a different way than everyone else.  But you can't.

We all cry out to the same power.  The same universe.  The same spirit.  The same God.

God saves, God loves, God gives, God forgives, God lives.  It's not about us or them, what's right and what's wrong, who is in or who is out.

It's about GOD.

And then I began to wonder...Have I been selling myself (or worse, God) short?

Trees, light, perspective, hope.  All of these, for me, point to God.

Monday, June 13, 2016

I Don't Get It

This is not going to be eloquent.  This is going to be bumpy and mostly gritty and a bit rambling.

Welcome to my brain.

Non-action has never equaled action.  Thinking, complaining, googling about buying shoes is not buying shoes.  There will be no shoes on your feet.  Your amount of shuffling in the airport security line will be less, but you will still have no shoes.

I am about to be 35.  Off the top of my head, I remember Columbine.  I remember Virginia Tech.  I remember Sandy Hook.  I remember Columbia mall in my own backyard.  And there have been many many other mass shootings, not to mention homicides, accidental deaths and injuries related to firearms in this country.  Like an alarming amount.  In 35 years.  My own 35 years.  That's a drop in the bucket of (let's hope) modern human history.  

And yesterday I woke up to Orlando.   I don't get it.

What I do get is that the issue is complicated.  This time it involves guns and marginalized minorities based on sexual orientation and possible religious beliefs and a presidential election.  I know nothing about guns.  I know nothing about motorcycles either and so I trust local, state and federal government to regulate their ownership and use.

I now live in a state, in an area, where I can drive ten minutes to the Great Lakes Outdoor Supply store and gawk at the entire back wall of firearms.  I assume I could just buy one if I wanted, but like I said, I know nothing about guns.  I can also buy baby chicks there, but I don't really know anything about them either.

I see a lot of "crunchy granola left democratic" type people saying things on social media that seem to make sense to me: Tougher gun control!  Ban the extra scary weapons! (not a direct quote) Don't pit the Muslim community against the gay community!  Love more, fear less!  Darkness can't drive out darkness, only light can do that!

These sentiments appeal to my Spirit-loving, divine-seeking, people-protecting, Jesus-following tendencies.

I see a lot of "let's make 'murica great again right republican" type people saying things on social media that don't seem to make sense to me:  This is a free country!  Guns don't kill people, people do!  An AR-15 is NOT an automatic weapon, it's a semi-automatic weapon that Americans like because it is accurate, it's not a gun problem it's a Godlessness problem.

These sentiments don't work for me.  Though I have no good reasons why, I suppose.  I am definitely not educated on gun laws, government regulations, politics and how to super annoy people on the Internet (though I could learn).

But I have felt my panties twist on this issue every. single. time.  I always try to see the multiple sides of situations (there is sadly usually only two sides clearly projected...I like 3 or more choices, please).  I understand pro-life AND pro-choice.  But with guns...I don't get it.

What I do get is that non-action never equals action.  And so I want to DO something this time.  I am going to DO something this time.  My heart is set on peace, love, unity.  My heart is set on God.  Not on man. Not on violence or fear or hate.  I fall off the wagon like the rest of you, but my days start new every morning.

So, internet, help me decide what to DO.  Join an anti gun violence group?  Write my congressmen (once I look them up)?  Volunteer or study to help those who suffer from this "godlessness"?  (meanwhile: where are all the calls, ideas, suggestions, legislation to help the people (or the people raising the people) who kill the people so they don't kill the people in the first place??)

Anyway, back to action.  I'll let you know when I have decided.  Maybe I will do them all.  Maybe I will do something different.  I invite your suggestions.  I invite you to join me.

And in the meantime...I will love.  Just Do It.  Remember the shoes from the beginning?  You can't wear love on your feet unless you ACT.  Buy into LOVE.  I promise the Creator of love will help you.

Grace and Peace, lovelies.

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Let Life Pull You

A few weekends ago my family and I attended a wedding.  It was a lovely event: a joyous mass followed by a fun party.  But it did involve a lot of thought and planning. We drove six hours to get there the day of the ceremony and then six hours home the next day.  27 hours in Kentucky + 12 hours of driving +2 kids + 1 hotel room = tiring.

I'm pretty sure my parents thought our travel plans were nuts.  Even the lady at the dog kennel commented that we were brave.  (This from a woman who tends to 30 or more dogs a day and owns her own dogs, horses, cats and chickens.)

I arranged for the dog-sitting.  I packed the girls suitcase and mine.  I even made sure they had new (clean) white socks.  I sewed buttons on their dresses and mended a hole in a cardigan.  I even managed makeup for myself.  The bride and groom knew we were there.  We got to see them and hug them.  They looked radiant.  We even exchanged a few words.  But that was it.  Was it really worth all our time and trouble? Did it really matter that we were there?  The wedding would have gone on without us. Completely.  There were many closer friends and family among the 400 guests.

We may have been missed by a few, but not terribly.  We see the groom maybe once a year.  We met the bride once (well, it was a week at the beach so...five times?) And while they are certainly family and we love them very much it would have been understandable if we had declined.

But we didn't.  As soon as we got the save the date (our very first piece of mail in our new home) we knew we should be there.  We wanted to be there.  We were two days in a new state.  There were so many unanswered questions: Were the girls invited?  Would they miss school?  Who would watch the dogs? Should we stay two nights or one?  How long was the drive? Would we have our new licenses, plates and insurance by then? Miraculously, I didn't worry.  We just showed up.  We made it happen.  And yes, it was worth it.  Completely.

Really, it was serendipitous.  A few months ago Louisville, Kentucky was at least 10 hours away.  Now that we live in Northeast Ohio, it is a mere 5-6.  I am not sure if we would have made the trip from Baltimore. Those few extra hours in the car over a weekend add up.  But, we may have still made the effort to show up. To be there.  To show support to the new couple and celebrate with family.  To teach our children that marriage (and family) is a big deal and should be honored.  No matter how seemingly inconvenient or impractical.

In the end, after all of that, even though I thought I was doing something completely for someone else, it was me who got a lesson in a few truths: (isn't it cool that so often everyone benefits when we stretch ourselves?)

You can't experience things if you don't show up.  You can't show love if you don't do something.  So if you can you should.  Especially when the "appointments" line up with your priorities, your care for yourself, and build relationships.  Even if they require out-of-the-box thinking or out-of-your-comfort-zone venturing.

You also don't have to be all things to all people and all places at all times.  That certainly wouldn't line up with your priorities or self care which would only strain relationships. But, if you feel the pull you should respond.  Not the pull of guilt or duty, but the pull of the Spirit, the pull of the something bigger, the pull of the dance life is really all about.

Still, I tend to second guess, over think, over analyze and even "negativize" the mostly mundane.  That certainly rips the grace and beauty right out of my life.  But I didn't do that this time.  I rode the wave.  It was refreshing.  

So watch out Kentucky...I might just surf (or dance) my way back soon. :)

This is obviously what I look like when I go with the flow.  Don't you? Toodles!

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Goodnight, Chipmunk, Goodnight

My sister just visited for a long weekend and it was fabulous.  What was not fabulous was that minutes after she arrived at my house for the very first time, my scrappy little terrier mix caught a chipmunk and started flipping it around the yard.

"I think Kima has something," my sister said while eyeing the edge of woods with suspicion.

"Yeah...what is that?"

Initially, I thought she just had a wide stick or large piece of mulch.  And then I saw it bend the way only a little furry body can when it is being launched in the air and batted like a toy.

"Kima!" I yelled as I marched across the squishy grass.  She came immediately.  Instinct had run out and she didn't know what she was ultimately "supposed" to do after catching a critter.  I dragged her and her 85-pound hound mix "brother" into the sun room where my sister and youngest daughter were watching.

"What did she have?' my sister, who lives in south Philly, wondered.  She was already on nature overload.

"I don't know yet.  I'm going to go see."

I trudged back across the yard to the treeline where the victim lay.  I knew it would still be alive and I hoped it was merely stunned or playing possum to avoid further injury.  I thought getting the dogs inside would give it some time to recover and it would hop right up and run off.  I was wrong.

I soon saw that my dog had caught and slobbered a chipmunk.  The poor thing looked like it had been through a hurricane.  It's fur was plastered this way and that and its once poofy tail was thin as a string. He was still breathing.  His eyes were even open.  But it was clear that the bottom half of the animal was broken.

Immediately, it crossed my mind that I should kill him and put him out of his misery all while simply skipping a few steps to his soon-to-be demise.  Instead, I headed to the garage to fetch gloves and a box.  I picked him up gently and placed him inside it.

I brought him over to the four curious eyes of my sister and my daughter, one of whom had muttered, "You picked him up?!?"

My sister refused to look, but my daughter was willing.

"I should probably kill him, right?  What do you think?  But I don't think I can do it.  No, I just can't."

I pictured a few possible scenarios in which I did end the life of the tiny thing.  But that sealed it for me.  I couldn't do it.  I wouldn't do it.  Maybe my husband would when he got home.

For four hours I checked on the chipmunk.  Every time he was still alive.  A few of the times he would crawl, dragging his legs behind him.  Other times he appeared to be very still yet quivering and I assumed the end was near.  Still other times, he appeared to be cleaning or scratching himself as if it were business and usual.

When my husband got home he said he would toss him over the fence into the neighboring lot of woods owned by a house so far behind us we had never seen it or any of its residents.

"Will that kill him?" I asked, obviously more than obsessed with the fate of this rodent.

"I don't plan to throw him that hard."

After a bit of debate, I decided I should do it.  I had forced the thing to live all this time, I deserved to do the deed.  I put on the gloves and opened the box.  He was bright eyed and moving around.  I instantly balked and began to cry.  How could I leave him to die?

"What would you rather do?"  My husband asked not cruelly, but practically.  The fact of the matter was that this was a wild animal, more or less broken in half and doomed.  I had to just let nature take its course, in nature.  I had possibly prolonged his life by stressing him out in a strange white box and adding unnecessary adrenaline to his already aching body.

His question did the trick.  I swallowed my sadness, picked up the weightless wad and placed him under a tall, leafy weed on the far side of the fence. For hours after, I fought the urge to go peek at him, but I held firm.  Through tears I commented on how silly I was being.

But the truth is life is made up of moments like these: loss, change, growth, grief.  Ends, but also beginnings, good and hard and awful and awesome and everything in between.  Life is made up of little deaths.  And that damn chipmunk reminded me of that.

In retrospect, I think its OK that I didn't have the guts to kill him.  But I did hold on to him for selfish reasons.  Eventually, I saw the need to put the chipmunk to bed.  I got there. And so did he.  I hope minimal damage was done.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Crash Landing

My middle leans against the kitchen island as I begin to type this blog post.  My back is over-arched as always.  I check my shoulders and force them to relax toward my bare feet.  I spy a bag of mini marshmallows hiding under a kitchen towel to my left.  I grab them, unwind the plastic, and dig in, popping probably eight or so into my mouth.  I smush them between my lips and my teeth as I ponder how to express the way I am feeling...

* * * * *

My eldest daughter launched off the bus 37 minutes ago.  She tore up the driveway to her sister and me who were waiting exactly for that.  We had had a typical day: preschool pickup, library (book sale!), lunch, TV and outside play, but we were both ready for a change of pace.

"Mom, can we go to [neighbor girl]'s house?  She was on the bus and asked if we could."

"Sure, let me text [babysitter] and let her know you are on the way."

Backpacks, shoes, and helmets flew off and on in the hustle to find their friend.  I unzipped the backpack after it landed to skim homework, other contents and action items.  I am always looking for something to do.

Minutes later, they were off, biking down the driveway, up the street and behind the house next door to play pirate ship on the swing set.  I could hear their chirps and giggles faintly as I scooped up a few things and headed inside.

I called the dogs to follow me and they looked at me like my children do, "Aww, mom, do we have to?" (Yes, and here is a fake piece of bacon for your efforts and in an attempt to prove I am not always a buzz kill.)

I moseyed around the house aimlessly, grabbing this and that.  I thought about jumping in the shower, but then I realized I should let [babysitter] know.  I slapped my butt pocket to check for my phone.  It was actually there.  I pulled it out to text her again, the babysitter for the children next door, the woman I feel the most myself around in Northeast Ohio, to casually let her know I'd be in the shower.  I lost heart, put the phone down and wandered back through the kitchen - the place I can always get something done.

Eyeing the two empty jars of spaghetti sauce by the stove, dead soldiers from dinner last night, I carried them across to the sink to be washed.  They left behind them a trail of tomato water, on the wood, on the rug, on my toes.

"Shit," I mumbled.  It came out just like I've heard my mother say it.  Long "shhh," quick, harsh "i," super enunciated "t" as if singing a motherhood choir selection entitled, "Why Me?"  I shook it off and wiped it up and rinsed them out as intended.

Other dishes beckoned and before long I was squeezing soap into its compartment and clicking it closed.  I slammed the dishwasher door and pressed a button.  The wrong button.  It started doing something I didn't want.  I tried "cancel."  I tried "start."  I said, "fuck."  I don't know how to use my own dishwasher.  Cause it's new to me. Like everything else!

I plopped to the floor.  My husband was in Indiana and wouldn't be home until the next night.  The kids were down the road playing in the newly budding woods.  My physically closest "friend" was with my kids.  And I was sitting on the floor, looking at my wobbly reflection in the dirty dishwasher front.

It was dirty.  I stood up, grabbed the rag and wiped the front of the dishwasher down.  I dried it and turned tossing the towel on top of the marshmallows.  I put all my weight on my front foot and then let the rest of me crashed into the kitchen island. Thankfully, it catches me every time.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Rubber Ducky, You're the One

We just moved into a new house, in a new town, in a new state.  My husband has a new job, my kids are in a new school. Most of the new stuff is great. Some will take some getting used to.

One new thing that I have seamlessly embraced is my soaking tub.  I love taking baths in that thing. I easily take two or more baths a week.  They slow me down, warm me up, and pull me away from everything going on on the other side of the door.   Which is now in Ohio and can be especially overwhelming at times.

I can hear all the unbelievers (men) now:  Gross! Why would you want to take a bath?  It takes so long! Bathing is basically basting in a tub full of your own filth!

Excuse you.

1. I (like every woman) do not create filth in any shape or form.  When I sweat it smells like raindrops on a rose.

2. I soak in the tub before I wash up.  At night.  I shower in the morning like a normal person.  Please.

3. I maintain it is WAY easier to shave EVERYTHING (not like everything, everything, but everything you want to) in a tub.

MEN: why are you particularly prissy about bathing?  Here's my theory:  you don't like it when your junk floats up and around in the bath water.  It makes you nervous.  Or vulnerable.  Like you're not in control of your penis or something.

Get over it!  Baths are great.  And besides, this problem seems easily rectified: hold on to the darn thing.  I know you like to do that and it would probably make the bath even more enjoyable.

I joked with my husband recently that in church, the answer to any question is usually "Jesus."  And in relationships with men, the answer is usually "penis."

What do you want to do tonight?  Penis

What do you have in your hand?  Penis

Why are you fidgeting so much?  Penis

Why don't you like taking baths?  Penis

WOMEN: Encourage your men to take baths.  Modeling is a great way to introduce a new activity. Show them the joy of steaming water, flickering candles, cool red wine and a glossy magazine.  They won't mind. If your tub allows, invite your man to join you.  And then jump out, point at his bobbing junk and laugh!

No, don't do that.

EVERYONE:  Don't be scared.  Try (or retry) something new this week.  Like baths!  I've been forced to do lots of new things because of the move and it's refreshing.  You can do it too!  Step out of your comfort zone and allow your real or metaphorical penis to float for a change.  Vulnerability is where the growth is.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Mother, Interrupted

The air is cool, but still.  The girls and I exchange our typical banter.  Subjects include rocks, butts and Jesus. We debate the use of the umbrella.  Tiny raindrop hula hoops spread out upon the pond, but (as my eldest daughter put it) the light rain feels refreshing.  So they take turns struggling with the button that makes the umbrella "bloom" and then hand it to me so I can push it closed, bringing winter again.  After a final pop of spring, the bus flashes brightly between the budding trees and turns the corner onto our street.  The umbrella is forgotten and so we watch.  Oliver runs down his own driveway, waits to be waved, crosses the street and then disappears onto the bus.

This signals our preemptive hugs and kisses and squishing cheeks.  My 5 and 7-year-old darlings still desperately dangle from me whenever they can.  I shed them like porcelain doll leeches and cheerfully say goodbye.  I watch their little behinds and their little legs reach high to climb the maturity mountain that leads on to the school bus. The driver smiles and says good morning.  They become officially hers.  I do this most every morning.  It feels confusing.

The doors close and I turn to retrace our steps to the house.  Where there were six there are now only two. The snow has finally melted, but I sense their footprints just the same.  I glance at the pond and the yard and the trees, but mostly I look down at the cement, at my feet.  No doubt I am wearing a comical combination of wrinkled skinny jeans and slippers or yoga pants and big bulky boots.  I smile at the sight of myself.  With each step I let go of them a little and begin to remember that I am alone.  I am not sad.  I am glad they are gone, for then they get their time and I get mine.  But still, I miss them.

They are funny and sweet, clever and bright.  They reek of their father (in more ways than one) and I love seeing him in them. They are aggravating and pushy, ungrateful and grumpy.  They remind me of me (and then, yet, not quite) and I remain puzzled most of the time.  They are the richest and hardest thing I have ever chosen to do.  And honestly, one wasn't exactly a choice.  But, there is nothing I feel more genuinely, more viscerally, more willingly than motherhood.  I wear it inside and out, in my head and my heart, on my sleeve, on my face, on my car.  I literally question everything else.

I am a mother.  

My darlings

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Just Move

My thoughts have been a bit all over the place recently.  This is not necessarily abnormal, but since the head that holds the brain that conjures the thoughts now sleeps on a pillow in Ohio, it's different.  Normal, but different.  That pretty much sums up life right now.

I already struggled with focus and decisiveness.  I have lots of ideas, but not the best follow through.  I tend to flourish in a reactive role, putting out "fires," supporting a friend in a crisis, executing an unexpected out of state move. But saying I am a motivated, self-starter would be false.  Certainly, I have lied during several interviews over the years.

But on occasion, I put blinders on and move with the force of horses to accomplish a task.  I don't mind hard work.  I come, as my mom puts it, from peasant stock.  We rip up old t-shirts for rags and get on our hands and knees and wash wood floors.  I just have trouble harnessing this Murphy's Oil Soap scented lightning, so to speak.  

A few evenings ago, in the midst of my mind juggling mom stuff and wife stuff and house stuff with a side of moving aftershock, I decided on a task.  I decided it was the perfect time to rip up all the dandelions in the garden.  I had tried waging war on their roots the first few weeks of spring, but soon learned that trying to stay on top of digging them all up was impossible.  I despise lawn chemicals, but I'm the new neighbor.  With a shitload of dandelions.  Some people get really edgy about dandelions.  I'm out to make friends, not enemies.  

Whether this was my reason or not, I dove right off the front porch into our expansive perennial beds with bare feet and abandon.  I was on a mission. A mission, I realized shortly into my quest, was probably a ridiculous one.  While, yes, I was keeping the yellow dandelions from going to seed and the existing seeds from spreading, I was essentially dead-heading the dandelions.  A process I gladly due to petunias, for example.  So that they can expend their energy on MAKING MORE FLOWERS!

Regardless, I forged on, digging my toes into the wet mulch to reach every last one of those buggers. When my back began to ache, I considered surrendering, but it simply felt too good to be doing it.  To be doing something I decided to do.  That didn't need to be done.  As, obviously, the purpose was unclear.  

So I took it in.  The sound the hollow stems make when you pop off their tops.  The opportunity to sense nature in a new way.  The ability to have some head space and think.   And what hit me was this: I don't just decide to do something enough.  I waiver and wobble and weigh when really, in most circumstances, I should just move.  Pick a direction and move. Do something, anything and take it from there.

Like with the dandelions.  I just got the urge to pick them all and so I did it.  I didn't over think it.  Everything does not require over-freaking-analyzing.  Just move.   And it was while I was moving that I realized the benefits.  They were not the ones I imagined they would be when I set out, but they were there.  I would guess most of us don't just up and move enough.  We are a tentative lot.  I wonder what we miss.

Do you ever resist starting a task or a project because you don't want the pressure of finishing it?  I do.  And that's dumb.  It's completely OK to change direction after we get going and not end on a grand note every time.  Plus, we can lean on family and friends and (I believe) the Spirit to help us make sense of what we are doing and support us and guide us.   

Now, I don't mean to say that the Holy Spirit led me to pick the dandelions that day, but I do believe She was with me.  Despite the probable futility, that moment was one of light and lucidity.  The type that can only come from love. And trust. When we just have faith in ourselves and our situation and move.  



Monday, May 2, 2016

My Valid Reality

I'm on a new medication.  An additional medication to help me manage my now 12-year battle with depression and anxiety.  During a follow up today, the doctor decided that since I tolerated the initial dosage very well we would continue with a higher dosage, the dosage she always intended to prescribe.  The lower dosage had already helped.  And despite the many clouds of emotion (and paperwork) that surround picking up your whole family and moving to a new state, my brain feels the most focused and alert in years.  Now, I'm just regular sad and scared and nervous.

I left feeling positive.  I left feeling proud.  There was a time in my life (a mere five years ago) that I believed "depression" and "anxiety" were dirty words and ones I certainly did not want associated with me.  Today, I almost fully embrace my reality.  That my chemical makeup is a bit wonky and that it is OK (even necessary) to take medication and seek help.  Maybe one day I will completely get rid of my remaining irrational shame.

After the appointment, I texted my husband whose new job is just around the corner from my new doctor and we met for coffee and a bagel.  It was a lovely little way to start a foggy, damp Monday in May.  He left with a salad to take to the office for lunch and I left to pick up our youngest from preschool.

And then she and I headed to the pharmacy to pick up my new meds.

Initially, I thought there was only one simple task to accomplish.  But I remembered that I needed to print pictures for a school project (15 minutes).  Then I noticed that my favorite tanks and tees were on sale (15 minutes).  After that I realized I wanted to pick up a Mother's Day card (10 minutes).   And then, uncharacteristically, the pharmacy line was very long.  I somewhat set off my own spiral.

Little G handled all of this with poise, relaxing in the back of the cart as I allow her to do when the list is relatively short.  But it didn't take long in this line before she was starting to squirm.  By now it was nearly noon and we were both hungry.

When we got to the desk, the pharmacist quickly produced my bag and then quickly questioned why what cost 23 dollars last month was ringing up as 77 dollars this month.  You better call your insurance, he suggested.  The higher cost is probably due to the higher dosage, but I would recommend you check.

So I did.  I stood there responding to a robot, "member" and "yes" and "no."  I recited our ID number at least three times.  I gave Ruby Robot (and everyone around me) all of my information.  Even the name of the medication.

But after two calls to two different numbers, during which I never spoke to a human, my anxiety began to bubble. People are probably looking at me.  I probably sound really loud and annoying and dumb on the phone. Jason, the pharmacist, is probably rolling his eyes. G is probably going to break down in seconds. I'm probably going to have to go home without the prescription and then drive the 20 minutes back sometime later because I have no pills left.  But I have to make lunch and dinner and do laundry and homework and I ran out two days ago...

And maybe this increased dose won't even make any difference.

I'm not suffering from a serious medical condition.

And I don't make any money to help pay for this.

I'm not worth 77 dollars a month.

My eyes darted around in a misdirected attempt to make a decision.  I looked at my phone.  It was 12:29.

At this point I was close to tears.  I had to hang up with my husband (who I also called) to keep from losing it right then and there over what I see now as NOTHING.  I am sure I had cried at the pharmacy at our Target back in Maryland.  I did not want (or need) to cry at our new Target in Ohio.

I took a deep breath.  And smiled.

Jason was very nice.  I paid the 77 dollars as my husband and I agreed and we left.  I bought G an un-requested chocolate milk to thank her and tide her over.  We drove home.  We ate lunch.  I inhaled Cheetos.  I was exhausted.  I passed out on the couch during Wild Kratts.

I don't always know what triggers it, but, in the end, it's usually something I can handle.  It's often a wave of anxiety followed by a crash of depression.  Sometimes I need my husband to hold my hand or a friend to text me a kissy face.  Occasionally, I need to sleep or cry or paint my nails or watch Fixer Upper for it to go away.

This is all thanks to the medication.  It is because of the medication that I don't need hours (or days or weeks) to recover.  It is thanks to the medication that I understand that I am worth it, that I do contribute, that anxiety and depression are valid.  And that because of them I am not less.  I am more.

The medication allows me to see the devil that is the disease, stare it in the face and wiggle free.  

And so if this increased dose allows me even more fuel to fight?

I sure as hell deserve to pay for it.

Saturday, April 30, 2016

I Will Be With You Always

I am living a new kind of lonely.

I am not a martyr.  I am like many people.  I have lived the lonely of falling in love.  I have lived the lonely of losing a job.  And I have lived the lonely of becoming a mom.

Today I am living the lonely of moving out of state.

Again, no martyr here.  We left for good reasons, on good terms with all of our family and friends.  We live in a nicer house, on a bigger lot, in an area with way lower crime and way better schools.  My husband makes more money (and likes his job).  I can stay home.  Our dogs bark less.  Our kids play outside more. This is 100% privileged first world lonely.  But it's still lonely.  And lonely is hard.

This lonely has led me strange places.  I put people's names in my phone like this: Shannon Lainey Mom, Roseann Neighbor on Left, South Russell 18 inch bike.  Craig (of the lists) is the highlight of my free time. Most of my emails are from the Geauga County library.  I've started reading D.H. Lawrence and Hemingway and Toni Morrison.  I contemplate crazy crafts out of broken wooden spoons.  Emerging from a long trip to Michael's, I expect to see the parking lot in Ellicott City, Maryland and end up in the parking lot in Aurora, Ohio.

I find my car, of course, because that is still the same, but I never know how to get anywhere. And I feel lost.

So I stay home a lot.  It's safe here.  I have space here.  I find stillness in nature, strength in yoga, grace in prayer.  I find peace in my stuff, but mostly in my dogs and my daughters, my husband and our life that exists regardless of time and place.

But I say Ohio a lot.  Sometimes I shout it like in the "Fifty Nifty" song I learned in fifth grade.  Mostly I mumble it or grumble it.  Occasionally I mock it, "No-hio, Blows-hio, O, freaking hio."  Or my personal favorite, "You say Ohio, I say Goodbye-0."

The thing that really makes me grumpy, though, is how much I don't hate it. Everyone is really nice.

I still don't want to meet them.

So I spend many evenings in the bath, soaking and thinking, doubting and breathing.  Because, of course, even though I am lonely, I crave time by myself.  Time to wallow.  Time to rest.  Wallowing is tiring.

After awhile, my husband will quietly knock, just to check on me.  And we will have a sweet chat.  I will really look at him for the first time that day and smile.  And sigh.  Maybe he is lonely too.

There is space now to really see things.  And that is good.  It probably won't last forever.  I'll conquer this lonely, just like the other ones and go back to saying Ohio in a boring manner like a politician.

But today I will be lonely. And then, one day, I will not.

Because I was never really alone in the first place.