To make a prairie it takes a clover and one bee, One clover, and a bee, And revery.
The revery alone will do, If bees are few.
--Emily Dickinson

Thursday, September 1, 2011

R.I.P. Willie

Our daughters' faces streamed with tears, salty water dripping off their chins as they buried their heads in Willie's fluffy coat. As a family, we had made the decision to euthanize our beloved corgi/collie mix Willie. Rescued from an animal shelter at the age of 6 or 7, he had been with us for over seven years, for as long as our children had been alive. Of all our pets, this was the cherished one, the one who allowed the girls to crown him with their plastic tiaras and bright beaded necklaces. Here was the dog they had toddled around on uncertain legs and braced their hands on his back for support. Their sticky fingers had tugged his tail and clumsily stroked his butter soft ears. Willie had taken it all with grace and now we were going to provide him with a graceful end.
My husband and I had struggled with the decision. How do you measure the quality of a life when it's owner cannot speak? We knew that Willie's hips were deteriorating. It was harder for him to walk, get up and down the deck stairs or even change position. Nowadays, he yelped for assistance often, sometimes in the middle of the night. The vet said his arthritic joints probably ached all the time, even with the medication he was taking. But does lying in a patch of sunlight snoozing or gnawing on a particularly big rawhide count as pleasures that counteract his physical difficulties? It was hard to say.
The turning point for us was when I came back from an afternoon of errands and found Willie lying in a puddle of his own making. I don't know how long he was there but it disturbed me greatly. He'd been a loyal member of our family and he deserved better than that.
So it's with leaden hearts that we're saying goodbye to Willie. He will be so missed. Tomorrow, I will stroke his fur and whisper to him what an incredible dog he has been. I will hold him while he begins his endless sleep. It's the least I can do after all his faithful years. No one should die alone. And again I will weep for a beloved friend and pet.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

When machines make us rude

On the woman's head was a headset that only airline pilots should be sporting. While she unloaded her groceries at the produce market she held a conversation about dog food with the listener on the other end of the line. She ignored the nice young man ringing up her purchases, interrupted her other conversation long enough to tell him that she'd bag the groceries herself because they were going to two different households, and then picked up the other conversation again while she distractedly picked through her purchases. While she's talking about Alpo, myself, the grocery clerk and the two ladies in line behind me are patiently waiting for Miss Rude to be on her merry way.  After she left, I mentioned that technology seemed to be making people lose their social skills. The nice, young man shrugged and told me that it happens a lot. He also told me that it drives him crazy. Me too.
I don't wish to deny anyone their smart phone, their digital music or their iPad. They all make life, and keeping up with the dizzying speed at which it moves, much easier.  I use these things as well. But to me, these tiny technological devices are just machines. They are tools by which I live my life, not a lifestyle that defines me. When it comes down to a choice between interacting with the person in front of me and using my smart phone, I try and pick the human being.
I don't begrudge the woman in the produce market her smart phone. I resent her rudeness while using it. Because what she was really communicating to that young man was that he was not worthy of her full attention, that his presence mattered so little that he might as well not be there at all. Convenience, in the form of a machine, is not an excuse for discourtesy. There are reasons that things like manners and courtesy are part of the hallmarks of a civilized society. Without them, we'd have self-involved, self-indulgent chaos.
Technology can be a wonderful thing. But when it starts to dislodge basic civility, that's when I turn my smart phone off.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Transformations and Appalachia

Six months ago I was mired in a grief so deep and dark that I didn't ever believe I could claw my way back to the light. For no apparent reason, our baby died. And when he did, it felt like something inside of me snapped in two. I felt broken. Grief is an isolating and all-consuming thing. When you experience that much pain, you turn inward. And I did that for many weeks. As the condolences and the comforting words came from friends and family, I cocooned. I learned a lot about myself during that time.
After a while, I got tired of the grief and the pain. I couldn't bring my son back, but I could choose how to react to his death. I decided that looking outside of myself and immersing myself in something new might be just what I needed. So when the pastor of my church asked me to help chaperone 15 teenagers on a home repair trip to Appalachia, I jumped at the chance.
The hills of Appalachia are beautiful. Every day we wound down a road that showed us the magnificence of the region. Our work site was so remote, I gunned my minivan through two small creeks just to get there. If the hills were beautiful, the extraordinary poverty we saw was not. The trailer we were working on was broken down. There was so much sulphur in their drinking water that it smelled like rotten eggs.There was trash all over the yard and the children were barefoot and dirty from playing in the creeks and woods around the hollow where they lived. A lot of the people we encountered either had no teeth or their teeth were in the process of rotting away. In a place where Mountain Dew is cheaper to buy for your kids than milk, they chose the soda. The sugar took its toll.
On first impression, all of that poverty is mind boggling. But by the end of the week, all of that didn't matter. Eventually, we stopped seeing the living conditions and started seeing the people. And the people were phenomenal. Each one of them had their own unique gifts and talents. Every one of them was friendly and hospitable. It was an honor to get to know them. We helped transform their living conditions by giving them a solid kitchen floor, something they hadn't had in a while and something we all took for granted back home.
If the people we met in Appalachia impressed me, so too did the teenagers who went there. They worked hard and really connected with the families whose homes they were repairing. For many it was a transformative experience. You could tell that their eyes had been opened to some new experiences that would change how they perceived the world. I liked having a ringside seat and watching those transformations take place as the week progressed. But if there was a transformation taking place in the teenagers on the trip, there was also one taking place in me.
For a solid week, I didn't worry about the grief or the darkness. Instead, I focused on the work in front of me and the people around of me. Problems arose in the work we were doing and I helped find solutions. I built relationships both with the family we were helping and my fellow team members. And when I returned home, that brokenness inside me didn't feel quite as broken as before.

Friday, June 3, 2011

A walk in the rain

The rain seemed like it would never stop and then suddenly there was a break in the clouds and the sun came out. After days of rain, it felt like a revelation to see the sun again. My six-year-old daughters and I decided to take our new dog, an energetic beagle mix, on a nearby walking trail. Surely the rain was over and being the optimistic type, I didn't carry an umbrella. About a mile into the trail, the rain began again. It wasn't a light drizzle or a slight sprinkling. It was a small downpour or as my country people say, a gully washer. And we were smack dab in the middle of it. The rain plastered our hair to our skulls and our clothes to our bodies. We were drenched and had to cross a major intersection at rush hour to get home.
Standing in the rain waiting for the crosswalk signal with the smell of wet dog wafting up at me, I noticed the people in their warm, dry cars glancing over at us and smirking. Which is when I began to dance. And whoop. The girls, thinking this was great fun, began to jump up and down and dance and whoop with me. The grins in the cars became larger. That was okay. I'm sure I was a quite a sight. On that street corner, I pulled out some dance moves that hadn't been seem since the mid-nineties. As my grandma used to say,, "In for a penny, in for a pound." Because it didn't really matter to me what all the people in their cars thought. In that moment what mattered most was what the girls took away from the experience. I wanted them to know that it was okay to dance in the rain with the world watching. I think they understood that and they enjoyed it.

Friday, April 29, 2011

The difficulties of being an aging night owl

I have always been a person who functioned better in the evening than during the day. That first, beautiful ray of sunlight that peeks over the horizon at dawn? Never see it, unless in my youth, when I had been out all night. Then I saw it through bleary eyes as I was falling face down onto my bed. I love the quiet and stillness that the nighttime brings. The children are asleep, as are most of my elderly neighbors and I'm left in glorious solitude.
It's possible for me to function on five or six hours of sleep. My dear husband requires at least 8 hours. My children need 12. Left to my own devices, I will stay up until 2 a.m. and sleep in 'til 11. But we're never left to our own devices are we?
Most of the world insists on keeping to a day timers schedule. Schools. Doctor's offices. The people who come to work at your house. Everyone assumes that you're a morning person. Except that when everyone else is winding down, I'm starting to wind up. According to the schemes of the world, I'm supposed to be bright eyed and bushy tailed after having eaten a healthy breakfast and exercised at the gym and showered. And I'm supposed to have done all this by 7 a.m.
And then there's the children. Those tiny human beings who spring from their beds and are ready to face the day. They decide that you should face the day at the exact same time, no matter that your aging body, dehydrated from the amount of Diet Mountain Dew you guzzled the night before, is screaming at you to stay in bed.
Therein lies the real issue: being an aging night owl.
I can honestly say that I crave the energy I had in my 20s to be melded with the wisdom and life I've gained in my 30s. Because in order to keep up with the daily demands of the day timers and get any of my precious nighttime solitude, I must consume large quantities of caffeine. Like some heroin addict, I need more and more of the stuff to keep going and reach the wakefulness that one can used to bring me. Twelve ounces of Diet Mountain Dew simply doesn't do it for me anymore. Now it takes two or three cans or perhaps a pot of coffee, a fact I keep from my urologist so as not to alarm him.
Where will it end? By my 40s, I very well could be hitting up convenience stores and stockpiling energy drinks. Although my older girlfriends tell me to enjoy the sleep that I do get, because someday hormonal changes will bewitch my body and sleep will come not at all. Perhaps then I'll replace my Diet Mountain Dew with a few cups of chamomile tea.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Just Playin' in the Rain

The world was a gray, drippy place until two six-year-olds decided to don their girly, pink rubber boots and stomp in puddles. Their laughter echoed through the neighborhood as they took turns running up and down the sidewalk, finding the biggest puddles. Nothing puts a smile on your face like watching 6-year-olds play in the rain. They don't worry about whether their socks get wet. They're not concerned with the state of their hair. They don't think about who might be watching.They just live in the excitement of the moment. That moment when their rubber boots connect with a puddle and they see how high they can make the water go.

I recall a summer when I was about their age. One of my favorite things to do was to walk into the middle of the road and pop tar bubbles with my bare toes. I didn't live on a busy street. In the small town where I grew up the roads were paved with a asphalt concoction that bubbled when it got especially hot, as it did that summer. I still remember how it felt standing in that road, the heat searing through my mosquito bite-covered legs and popping those bubbles. The particular squish as my big toe pressed down and how black the bottoms of my feet were afterwards. It was an addictive activity, like wringing plastic bubble wrap.

It's been a long time since I thought about popping tar bubbles. That lost memory didn't occur to me until Rose and Emma decided to play in the rain. Only six-year-olds would look at a dreary, water-logged landscape and see opportunity. Only a Kindergartner could appreciate the feeling of popping sticky, warm ooze with their bare skin. Adults so often worry about their to-do lists and tomorrows that they don't spend enough time inhaling the opportunities of today.

When I called Rose and Emma inside, they were soaked, mud-covered and breathless. And I was just a little bit envious.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Throw down at Mickey D's

Okay, so after the idiot who let loose pepper spray in Starbucks, I really believed that I was finished with stupid grown ups. Apparently not. Yesterday, I witnessed two grown women practically throwing punches in the McDonald's play area. I was sitting at a booth outside the play area, once again trying to get some writing done, with a friend of mine. My friend had brought her five-year-old daughter to play. Apparently, a grandmother tried to correct a little girl who had run into her granddaughter. At which point the mother of the little girl stood up and yelled, "If you have a problem with my kid, you come to me! You don't talk to her about it!" What ensued was the type of show that no one expects with their greasy fries. There was yelling, name-calling and cursing. Did I mention the room full of children that had front row seats to this show of adult misbehavior? Another mother tried to put herself between the two yelling women and remind them that there were children present. She got yelled at too.

Then came a mass exodus from the play area. Mothers hastily gathered coats and shoes and ushered their kids out the door. Someone else fetched the restaurant manager who interceded along with a burly guy who was working the restaurant's grill. The fighting women did not throw any punches but they threw enough insults to make a sailor blush. My only thought was for the little ones involved. If the women behaved this way in public, how the heck were they behaving at home?

There is an unspoken etiquette that applies to play areas which goes beyond the written rules on the cute posted signs. I don't mind if another parent steps in and admonishes my children as long as she isn't mean or malicious about it. I believe that it takes a village to raise children. If my children's behavior goes against our societal rules then I want my neighbor/friend/fellow citizen to step in and tell them in a kind way. Isn't kindness and respect for others some of the greatest lessons we can teach our kids? I don't think the two women at McDonald's have learned those lessons yet.

Monday, February 28, 2011

Let us all sweat together in silence

I don't really like working out. I do it because I'm told that if I don't, my body will break down into a gelatinous mass and I'll die more quickly. Always a bookish type, sweating annoys me, but I go and faithfully walk on the treadmill.

Today at the gym, I'm minding my own business, just walking and breathing, when a strange sound floats through the din of machines. Someone is singing. Two rows back on the recumbent bicycle row, a man is singing aloud, clearly grooving to whatever is coming through to him on his Ipod. That's disturbing enough, but he's singing really badly. It's some sort of strange falsetto that sounds like aliens chirping. Everyone around him is politely looking away, strangely focused on the readouts of their machines with slight smiles on their faces. It was sort of amusing. But I felt trapped. I was more than half-way through my work out and had 15 more minutes to go before I could quit. So I listened for 15 minutes straight. I wanted to go scrape my ears out with a wire brush by the time I was finished. Of all the days to leave my Ipod at home!

But Bad Singing Guy isn't the only one whose noisy habits have crossed my radar while I'm at the gym. There's also Loud Grunting Weight Lifter Guy, who sounds like he's constipated every time he lifts a barbell, and Excited Catch Up Woman, who sees one of her friends and stops to fill her in on escapades of the weekend.

Okay, see, now at this point you're shaking your head and suggesting that I just break down and buy a treadmill and walk at home. It's not like I haven't thought about it. But I actually need to have to go to a separate place to work out. An in-home treadmill would just turn into a coat rack and I'd procrastinate the inevitable. That's why I'm proposing that when we all have to gather at the gym, let us all sweat in silence. It will be much more pleasant that way. And next time I'm remembering my Ipod.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Sick kid syndrome

As I write this, my eldest daughter is curled up on the couch, her blond head nestled lovingly against her pillow pet. She's watching the antics of an old Yogi Bear cartoon, her stuffed lamb tucked underneath one arm. She's sick. A fever. A cough. And a crusty, runny nose. Like every other parent, I drop whatever I'm doing and nurse my child. Sure, I grouse along with the other moms when I'm out and about. Everyone knows that a sick six-year-old can be miserable and demanding. But secretly I kind of like it. When they're feeling at their worst, that's when they need me the most. I really don't mind fetching mugs of hot tea, making homemade chicken noodle soup and playing endless games of Disney princess checkers.

My kids are growing up faster than I care to admit. They're more independent. They're thinking for themselves and asking me to do less. Just today, while building a homemade tee pee out of some long sticks and miscellaneous blankets, Emma said, "You know Mom, I can figure these things out myself." Yes, I know and the tee pee was constructed. Inside I cringe. In a way, I've done this to myself. I've always wanted to raise strong, independent girls and it appears that that they're on that path. Hurray! I just don't want them skipping down that path too quickly.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Sports insanity

Let's make one thing clear: I love my husband. And while we are alike in many ways, we are also different in a few key areas. I love books and basically have shunned technology. (That's why so many of my friends are astonished that I started this blog. :) He revels in technology and figuring out the latest gadget. I am not particularly athletic and don't like to sweat much. He likes nothing better than to get out in the sunshine and swing a golf club or suit up and have hockey pucks whistling at breakneck speeds toward his face. I like to attend the occasional high school football game to enjoy the youthful exuberance, the brisk fall air and a warm cup of cocoa. He enjoys all different sports all the time. He can spout obscure statistics and pick out strategic plays. I once took a book with me to the U.S. Open so I'd have something to do during the boring parts.
So when it comes to events like the Superbowl, I try and survive them while he revels in them. To him the Superbowl represents the best teams of a season going for the big trophy, to me its a celebration that football season is about to be over. I'm sure my stance about sports annoys him, as his desire to view every game every weekend does me. But he puts up with my hobbies, so I must put up with his. Although I think playing with paper is a much more honorable pursuit than tracking the antics of sweaty men in tight pants. But that's just my opinion.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Breakfast in bed

This morning I was banned from my own kitchen. Two six-year-olds had taken up residence and were putting together breakfast for the whole family. I'm not sure if other people's kids do this, but I really like the fact that mine do. These are not fancy breakfasts. This is cereal poured into a bowl for each family member. They have also mastered the art of microwave oatmeal, so they make that for themselves. There's a lot of ruckus. A lot of shouts of, "Mom! You can't come into the kitchen!" They want to do it all on their own. They want to be independent. (Sigh) Then they carefully carry the tray to the bedroom and we all sit on the bed and eat our cereal together. There are a lot of knock-knock jokes exchanged and yes, the kitchen looks like it has been hit by a tornado. There's cereal spilled on the floor and on the stove. I usually can't find the cap to the milk, which has been left out. And there's just a sense of randomness and chaos everywhere I look. But I really don't care about all that. It's easily fixed. The lessons my girls are learning about putting others needs ahead of their own is important. The family time we share is priceless. And in a few years, I bet I'm going to miss those knock-knock jokes.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Squirrels should go mind their nuts

A few days ago I realized that I might become the 80-year-old woman armed with a BB gun shooting at squirrels. This is not something you want to know about yourself. I don't mind squirrels. Not really. I just want them to do what squirrels do. Our backyard has four gigantic oak trees that every Fall drop a plentitude of acorns. The oak trees serve as a free buffet as long as the squirrels are willing to dig beneath a snowy landscape. Apparently they aren't. They'd much rather dig through my bird feeder for free seed. The lazy bums! I want birds to eat bird food and squirrels to eat squirrel food. What's wrong with that? So when  a fat, gluttonous squirrel leans toward the bird feeder off our deck, I do what any normal, rational Midwestern woman would do. I pound on the window, lift it and scream bloody murder at them. I've even taught my daughters to do the same. My husband thinks I'm insane, but if the little critters would go mind their nuts, I might mind my business.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Does this happen to other people?

So there I am in a coffee house. My Ipod is on. My large peppermint tea is by my side. My computer is humming away ready for the words I'm about to spew into it. In short, it's a perfect creative moment. The husband has taken my beloved children on an adventure in order to give me some treasured solitude. I'm doing something that I rarely do -- I'm relaxing. And then the smell hits. At first it assaults my senses like some elderly woman's overpowering perfume. And then the coughing starts. I can hardly breathe. Did I mention that I was minding my own business? Then a gentlemen leans in towards me and confesses that he "accidentally" sprayed a little bit of pepper spray and I'd better go outside. Are you kidding me! He was nice. He was apologetic. He even offered to buy me an overly-priced coffee drink. And I smiled and told him it was okay. I just wanted him to go away. And eventually he drove off, clutching his own overly-priced drink in his hand. But in my head, okay and here, I'm calling him a freakin' idiot! I mean, who does that? Who sprays pepper spray, even if it's just to "test" it, inside a Starbucks? So my perfect moment is broken, by pepper spray of all things. I packed up and headed home. After a time my eyes stopped watering. Is there a lesson here? I think so. Perhaps there's no such thing as a perfect creative moment.