Getting into the Christmas spirits

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You read that right.

If you are someone who loves the holidays, you’re probably enjoying these last few days in the run up to Christmas. If you are someone who just worked 30 hours over a weekend you’re thinking they are incredibly poorly timed.

The Christmas theme at my house this year is: The Who’s house after the Grinch ransacked it, only the Grinch never came back. There is no tree. No wreath. No wrapped gifts. A few sad holiday cards, sent by dear souls who haven’t fallen into the black hole of capitalist chaos, sit on a table in my empty living room. (That’s right. The Grinch even took the furniture.)

The reminders are everywhere that I am behind. My email is full of messages screaming “last chance” and “ends today.” Too which I respond, “Delete you.”

As I walk through the beautifully adorned downtown skyways on my way to work, the Muzak reminds me that Santa’s on his way. “You say that like it’s a good thing,” I mutter.

And when I enter the post office and see the “We appreciate your business” sign on the door, I think, “No. No, you do not. If you did there wouldn’t be 20 people holding large boxes in this line, and you would not be chatting up the person you’re serving with news of your grandkids.”

Today I’m taking a day off to see if I can actually make this holiday thing work out this year. (Which explains why I’m spending time blogging, right?) I have a list as long as my arm and will burn a tank of gas driving from here to there. As of 8:00 a.m., I had already hit the “who are you kidding” stage of my day, and mentally removed a few items.

It’s beginning to feel a lot like another memorable year where I served spaghetti and meatballs for Christmas dinner. (Tip to readers: if you have to decide at the last minute between going to the liquor store before it closes and going to the grocery store before it closes, choose the liquor store. I guarantee your guests will not notice what you serve them for dinner.)

But I must away. The malls await me. I go armed with 60% off coupons for this and that. (It seems the only people more desperate than me this time of year are the retailers.)

Wish me luck.

A Monday morning

smallkindnessWhen your daughter borrows your expensive earrings without asking, and your hair is a wavy mess, and you get a project dumped on you before you’ve even left the house, and one son almost misses the bus, and the other son generates an email from school for being habitually late to science class, and your parking ramp is full so you have to walk an extra three blocks with something in your shoe, and you can’t find your security badge, and you realize you’ve forgotten to plug in the slow-cooker so dinner is not underway as planned…

And then your dad sends you a note about how much he enjoyed your last blog post and how talented you are and how proud he is.

And all things in the universe around you breathe a collective sigh of relief and the day settles back into place.

Small kindnesses matter.

Puzzling words together

puzzle pieces

To me, writing something – anything – is like putting together a 1000-piece puzzle. Without the picture on the box.

I start with a table full of tiny images, in a jumble. When I dump them on the table, they don’t look like anything but a pile of individual pieces. It’s not clear how they fit together. And the task looks impossible.

My first step is to scatter them all over so I can see each one. Pick apart the pile. Then I start to sort them. Like color with like color. Like pattern with like pattern. Even though they still don’t look like anything, I start to see images emerging. I start to feel how they might go together.

My second step is obvious: build the framework. It’s easier to find the pieces that fit along the edges, the ones that will house all the others. An outline. A structure for everything else to fall within.

And then I start to assemble the pieces. Individual words become phrases. Phrases become sentences. Sentences become paragraphs. The paragraphs begin to fit together and a picture starts to emerge. After a while, it starts to become more obvious where the loose, individual pieces should go. It starts to look like a whole.

The more you assemble, the more evident the picture is. And eventually, the clarity and beauty of the whole will emerge.

The only difference I can see between putting together a puzzle and putting together a piece of writing is that the writing is never done. Admit it, writers: if you could, you’d just keep taking out a few of those pieces and swapping them around to change the picture. Forever. Even if every piece was in the box and each fit into place.

It’s probably how that original artist felt, too, before someone carved the picture into a 1000 pieces and put it in the box to taunt the rest of us.

The promise of an empty room

empty room

For reasons too long to go into here, my living room is completely empty. To some people that might seem incredibly stark and sad. I’ve seen the faces of the few who’ve happened by, the startled looks as they say, before they can stop themselves, “Oh—you have no furniture in here.”

But I don’t find it sad. When I enter this empty room, I feel a sense of release. And possibility.

This room hasn’t been much used. Why? It’s the central part of the house, a space where I always envision my family gathered on rainy afternoons and winter evenings. Where I want to bring friends together to laugh and celebrate.

I believe the room was not hospitable. It didn’t welcome anyone. Or at least it hasn’t for a very long time.

Well, that’s going to change. But in order to fill your space with only things you love, you have to start with an empty room.

I’ve brought in a little color. There will be more. And then there will be some texture. I want textures that you can’t help but pass your hand across. And light. For years, I’ve been sitting in a dark room when I want lots and lots of light. I want to illuminate the corners. I want to soak it up. So I will.

I want warmth. I want my room to take the chill off its inhabitants. And I believe I can make that happen.

That’s the promise of an empty room. You can see it as a vacancy or you can see it as the biggest opportunity of your life.

Envision it full.

Glitter: Where Title IX falls painfully short

I should be writing today, but instead I’m doing the task no parent should be asked to do.

Parent Your Business

IMG_0623 - Version 2Title IX was newish when I hit junior high and decided I didn’t want to take home economics. This was back in the day when all girls took home ec, and all boys took shop. Nothing wrong with home economics, I just, personally, thought it sounded like a snore. The boys got to mold plastics and use power tools. The girls learned how to make white sauce. I could not see how white sauce fit into my future.

My parents, in a much-appreciated burst of advocacy, petitioned the school board to let girls take shop, and ultimately prevailed. Although the board’s ruling came too late to save me from Mrs. W’s high-fat cuisine, it did clear the way for kids like my younger brother to learn how to sew an apron and do his nails (I kid you not. He is still, to this day, extremely well groomed.)

Fast forward several…

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Not a writer’s block

fall leaves

Friends and followers, I’ve been absent from your feeds. Sometimes what life hands you requires your energy and you must divert it from the tasks you love.

One of the heartbreaks of the blogging community – what you can only find out the hard way – is that bloggers disappear. They die. They experience an event so crushing that they lose their voice. Or they just plain lose their enthusiasm and stop writing. One day you have a daily correspondent, a friendly voice on the other side of the world and the next day – poof, just like that – they’re gone. You can’t find them. You can’t reach them. And it leaves you feeling bereft.

And then that blogger was me.

Well, I have the same old voice, but it’s reshaped, perhaps, by the events of the year. Painful personal experiences. Exciting career opportunities. Children growing up and pulling a little farther away. A national recognition for my writing – not for my humor, but for the blog post it nearly broke my heart to write.

Fall feels like an ending for a lot of people, but for me it’s always been a beginning; a chance to retreat back into yourself after the glorious chaos of summer. A time to get serious. If you exercise,  you’ve probably gone through times where, for whatever reason, you can’t get to your run, or your swim, or your yoga class. Then you wake up one day and realize you are a little stiffer, a little angrier, you’re losing your edge – and you put the shoes back on and you run.

Well, I woke up feeling like a run today – and here it is.

 

Teen housekeeping

bike ramp 1Every day before I leave for work I produce a list of chores. It is in an easy-to-read, table format. Responsibilities are clearly assigned. And for the most part, the chores get done.

But there’s still a tortilla sitting on the arm of the couch in the TV room.

And there is the problem, in a nut shell. All that gets done is what I specify. And I forgot yesterday to add to the list, “Please pick up the tortilla in the basement TV room.”

A tortilla! Courtesy of the very same child who once accidentally lured a mouse into his bedroom by leaving a tortilla under his bed. They’ve learned nothing.

When I worked at home, I knew I was doing most of the heavy lifting when it came to housework, but I had no idea that I was single-handedly keeping chaos from my door. The evidence of our reduced housekeeping state is everywhere. The four-foot weeds in the yard and the cobwebs in the corners are bad enough. It’s that other stuff I can’t stand, like the gum underneath my cabinet counter. The silverware under the couch. And the vast expanse of laundry, everywhere but in the dirty-laundry depositories conveniently located in every room.

I keep holding out that one day my kids will wake up, realize they are pigs, and spontaneously scrub the kitchen floor. So far, nothing. The only person who has awakened to my plight is my extremely bored nanny, who helpfully empties the dishwasher every day and puts everything in the wrong place. Making dinner at my house is like a treasure hunt with a low payout.

I had a glimmer of hope yesterday. I returned home from work to discover that my youngest son and his friends had weeded the path at the side of the yard. It was pristine – not a weed in sight.

“Finally,” I thought, “Someone doing a chore just because it needs to be done!”

Turns out they weeded so they could build a bike jump. A gum wrapper on your rug is acceptable; a weed on the approach to the bike jump is not.

At least they have standards. I’ll take what I can get.

I love a parade

Celebrate independence today, however you choose. Happy 4th of July!

Parent Your Business

IMG_0696It is my privilege to attend an annual 4th of July parade that defines what small town celebrations are all about. Each year, we anticipate representatives from all modes of transportation – tractor, truck, car, horse. We cheer loudly for the bands and the veterans. We vie for the free water and hotdogs, and the kids risk life and limb to retrieve candy from the street.

I love this parade. Its main asset is that it changes little from year to year, and let me tell you, there is much comfort in predictability.

Here are some of this year’s highlights:

The mammoth is looking a little warm. He probably wasn’t meant for this weather.

IMG_0673 There is a lot of liberty going on here.

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All the emergency vehicles are in the parade, so don’t light the barbecue until it’s over.

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Not sure which I like best – the mariachi band or the polka band (I…

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A simple summer bucket list

IMG_0021Life is busy. Life is stressful. And even though summer is a time to relax and enjoy the outdoors, the reality is you still have to go to work, clean the house, pay the bills, deal with the ups and downs of a life. My summer bucket list is simple. I want to:

  • Sit for a few moments with my face to the sun.
  • Enjoy a glass of wine or two with a friend.
  • Arrange some flowers from my garden for the house.
  • Watch the deer in my yard without worrying about what they’re eating.
  • Enjoy the green around me, even if some of it is weeds.
  • Read a good book. Or two. Or six.
  • Share an evening meal on the porch with my family.
  • Experience a few moments of pure, uncompromised joy.

It’s not too much to ask. Is it?

This is a post for the SITS Girls “Stop the Summer Slump” challenge

The perfect summer spot

IMG_0296This is a post for the SITS Girls “Stop the Summer Slump” Challenge.

Behold, the spot that makes my summer perfect. I know a lot of parents who hate the trek to the beach – the sand, the noise, the hassle. I love it. I have spent many an afternoon with this view.

I’ve worked under an umbrella while my kids played on the dock. Spent an afternoon with a good book in the hazy sun. Been one of the first to arrive in the morning and the last to leave at night. Picnicked on a quiet evening after most others have gone.

I’ve changed diapers in the family changing room. Chased a two-year-old through the shallows. Built sand castles. Visited with other parents while our kids swam and shouted in the water. Eyeballed teens hanging out together on the hill, not interfering, but providing my presence as needed (and also my cash for concessions, of course.) Watched a bald eagle circle the kids on the dock.

I’ve been happy here. Sad here. Content. Frustrated. Angry. At peace.

When my children are gone, out in the world (and that day will come all too soon) this is the spot that will come to mind when I think of summer. And I may just head over to sit in this spot, for an hour or two. To remember. And feel at peace.