Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Not Like Before

In my past, when I gave thanks, I always expressed explicit gratitude for the explicitly good stuff:

The job. The love. My husband, my family, my kids. Money. The big win. My health. Kindred friends.

As years and wisdom started inspiring my gratitude, new layers and permutations of thanks began. I started a new practice, one in which I offered thanks for the less flamboyant, but equally powerful:

Sunlit, spring-breeze dried clothing.

Still pudgy toes resting on a dusty baseboard.

Raw, barren wind chapping my skin, pulsing like life itself.

Muscles in legs that carry my body through each step.

Chocolate chip cookies (and the dough. Especially the dough.)

A laugh shattering a once-tense moment.

A pile of dishes representing a warm meal, time together and full bellies.

A stranger, smiling warmly and gently.

And as I continue to practice, and become more seasoned, I implement a twist on my tradition of thanks. One which I hope will provide freedom and more space in my lungs, more room for the flux of life: there is a gift in each phase, each moment of my life.

In piles of snotty tissues.

In a broken HVAC system.

In a parent's divorce.

In panicked sadness.

In a dead car battery.

In an argument with Hubby.

In stomped feet, slammed doors, eye rolls and picky eaters.

In messes.

I recognize, although nascent in this discipline, that it all unfolds, exactly as it should. In each, a reflection of myself. In each, growth. In each, grace. In me, gratitude.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Where I'm From

I am from Midwestern sensibilities, frugality and Spanish ocean breezes.

I am from a Bicentennial celebration of the Liberty Bell, a brick ranch, a Georgia colonial, and the wafting scents of sauteed garlic and onion. I am from everywhere and nowhere, from many sturdy oak-lined streets with well-traveled sidewalks.

I am from zinc oxide and a plethora of satin swim team ribbons.

I am from the red tulips of Maine, the blizzard of 1979 and countless grains of white sand lining the blissful shores of Lake Michigan.

I am from homemade cinnamon rolls, ingrained curiosity and an English teacher. From Three Dog Night and the Muppets. From unchaperoned games of Ghost in the Graveyard, and parents who rang a cow bell when the time arrived to come in from the dark.

I am from the the incense filled vestibules of Cathedrale Notre Dame de Paris, lit prayer candles and and an unwavering cadence of strength.

I am from a family who staunchly believes in Santa Claus. From a love of shoes, Waterford crystal and twisted corkscrew willows.

I am from devout Catholics, an almost-nun and baptized atheists. From the intoxicating scent of crisp sheets line-dried on a sunny day and Shel Silverstein's Where the Sidewalk Ends.

I'm from the oldest of five and the oldest of two, from him and from her. From chicken paprikash with handmade spatzel, countless potatoes and a staunch love of college football. From metallic foil wallpaper and gold, wide-whale corduroy couches.

From a woman who worked for the Red Cross in Korea, wearing crisp white uniforms with quaint hats. I am from nurses, pilots, dentists and electricians. I'm from careful, faded love letters, intricate unions and complex dissolutions.

I am from monogrammed sweaters, Bermuda bags and a well-read copy of The Preppy Handbook. I am from hippies, Republicans, Democrats and Vietnam vets. I am from a myriad of exhalations, sacrifices and shoveled walks. I am from a raven-haired, violet-eyed homecoming queen and hearty immigrants. I am from each experience of my many families, and profound belief in something more profound than me. I am from each step to now and the hum of a faithful dishwasher. I am from them all; I am me.

Thanks to Lindsey, and the many other bloggers whose execution of this exercise inspired me to write my own. You can go here to find the Where I Am From template. The original poem, Where I Am From, by George Ella Lyon, is beautiful and can be read here.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Q & A

My pal Lindsey posted a fun Vanity Fair questionnaire yesterday with her responses (as she said, "Vanity Fair has two questionnaires every month – the famous Proust Questionnaire (meaty questions, back page) and the lighter list in the Culture section in the middle of the book."). Lindsey and I delved into the lighter fair and because I love the trivial not-so-trivial, here are my answers. Would love to hear your answers, too!

Where do you live: New Jersey
Favorite art: Picasso (a new addition after seeing his work in Spain), Georgia O’Keeffe, My daughter's paintings, Monet
Pets: Not now...but still miss our big red dog Ruby
Favorite neighborhood restaurant: Oh, if only there were restaurants in my neighborhood....
Favorite cocktail: dry Cabernet Sauvignon
Who inspires you: Those who choose to smile. Musician/songwriters: not only do the write the words but also build the entire song?...crazy. Gifted writers. Strength in the face of diversity. People who share their experiences with raw honesty.
Necessary extravagance: My life coach.
Favorite place in the world: Can't pick just one. Driving in my car, music blaring, singing like I'm with the band. Snuggled in bed with Henry. Laughing with Abby. Cozy-movie watching with hubby.

Designer: J Crew, Tory Burch
Jeans: Ummmm....new favorite? Brace yourself: Faded Glory, WalMart. Curvy Bootcut. $12. You're welcome.
Underwear: Hanes
Sneakers: Adidas
Watch: Swiss Army
T-shirt: Gap Supersoft
Day bag: since I don't have enough space to bore you with my multitude of purses, let's just say there are many.
Evening bag: Dark green patent leather croc clutch from Forever 21
Favorite city to shop: Chicago

Lipstick: Lip gloss (currently love E.L.F. glosses from Target. $1!)
Mascara: Max Factor 2000 calorie (no longer made so searching for replacement)
Shampoo: Pantene
Moisturizer: Cetaphil at night, Olay spf 30 at day
Perfume: Winter: WISH Sugar Pastille. Summer: Bath and Body Works Cucumber Melon
Toothpaste: Colgate
Soap: Lever 2000 and Unscented Dove
Nail-polish color: IF my hands are painted, super neutral or a new fav, Sally Hansen Complete Manicure, Commander in Chic. Toes--anything dark and fun.
Who cuts your hair: Right now, me. Had so many bad hair cuts in the last year I'm utterly petrified to have anyone else cut it.
Who colors your hair: Brenda. (What's that? You're shocked to hear that I'm not a natural blond? Thought so.)

Friday, November 19, 2010

Writer's Block and the Wind

Last night, I lay in bed, ridiculously tired, but not sleeping, listening to the howling wind. From my red flannel cocoon, I watched the now-bare trees, just outside my window, take a beating from the wind. And I got giddy knowing the empty branches provided the outline for winter snow and ice and frigidity. I LOVE winter. I LOVE inclement weather. Abby and Henry share this winter embrace; we all highly anticipate the first snow fall...typically with noses pressed up to cold windows, willing the first fluffy flakes to take hold.

Anyway, as I lay there, not sleeping, my mind coursed with rapid thoughts. Mostly about writing, or, in my case lately, my lack thereof. My mind, like an empty chalk board. Clean. Void. Vacant. I've been fretting over the lack of creative sparks. I'd settle for a light smolder. With the aid of slanted light cast from evening lamps, I stared at the stack of reading on my nightstand. The lime green cover of the 1998 edition of The Best American Short Stories edited by the uber-talented Katrina Kenison, and Garrison Keillor). Then my eyes traveled down to Gail Caldwell's gorgeous A Strong West Wind. And then to the magazines and the papers sitting in the "I-read-it-and-thought-it-was-worth-dog-earring-and-then-ripping-out-and-placing-in-this-pile" pile.

Beautiful words, sturdy covers, deliciously sitting, awaiting my attention.

The books, usually inspiring and warm like old friends, seemed instead to taunt me. Sitting there, full of talented writing, published writing, interesting writing. The books lamented my lack of writing discipline, my disregard of the truths I know to be true: write everyday. No matter what. But at this moment, 10:29 PM, I exactly didn't feel inspired by other inspiration. Instead, the bound pages of beauty reminded me of everything I'm not doing. Writing. Word after word after word. In this particular hobbled corner of my writer's block moment, these books illuminated the depths of my desire to write, write, write and forced me to question why I just don't do so.

At this point, the wind took a vicious turn. 50 mph, blowing straight at my bedroom window. Blowing straight at me and, it seemed, straight into my contorted brain. And then it whisked me to a flat plane...a new moment. Perhaps a sign from the writing gods. Perhaps just a powerful jet stream. Or maybe both--it wouldn't be the first time the elements delivered a divine slap in the noggin.

I stared at the trees, watching as they allowed the wind to mold them into complex yoga poses. I felt as if I could see the wind. And the words, well, they slipped in on the edges of those winds. In a true effort to practice, I will write. I'll see that clean, blank chalk board as a vast, endless canvas of opportunity. And I will remember these words of Natalie Goldberg's, which I've applied like a salve to my wordless wounds:

"...have a tenderness and determination toward your writing, a sense of humor and a deep patience that you are doing the right thing. Avoid getting caught by that small gnawing mouse of doubt. See beyond it to the vastness of life and the belief in time and practice." (Natalie Goldberg, Writing Down the Bones)

Yes. Vast indeed.

Please, tell me, how do you deal with writer's block? Do you have any inspired questions to ask me or prompts to share?

Monday, November 8, 2010

Gratitude, Tumbleweed and Flannel Sheets

Lately, I've been sputtering about, grasping and searching for words. Words to describe my journey, my days, my thoughts. Words, brief sentences and vaporous phrases visit. But they blow in on the edges of a jagged tumbleweed. They tease me, and then depart, more swiftly than they arrived.


Last week, Henry got sick. A raging ear infection took hold and he couldn't tolerate food or water for 36 hours. (The upside to a kid throwing up in a different spot every hour: house, couch, family room, bathrooms and bedrooms (and all linens) are now very, very clean.) After watching Henry writhe and throw up for more than a day, we bundled into the car, with bucket in tow, and headed to the ER. An expertly administered IV coursed Zofram, antibiotics and saline into his limp little body. Henry and I curled up in that tiny little ER bed and he lay limply on my chest.

Just six hours after we returned from the ER visit,
Henry migrated from his gray-faced, listless heap on the couch to standing. He chased Abby. He laughed and pleaded for food. A satisfied smile played at the corners of my mouth. After 48 hours of his palpable misery, I gave thanks for the return of his health.

As our family came up for air after a very minor, but painful 48 hours with Henry, I paused. I saw the strains of order and regularity begin to gently resurface. I am pleased with how freely calm coursed through my veins, just like the magic drugs that coursed through Henry, delivering him back to health. In the past, I feel as if I sputtered and choked through challenging times, with a prevalent feeling of discord instead of gratitude. This time, no discord. Just peace.


Saturday afternoon, I sat in front of a fire (well, a nascent fire) which tried desperately to burn and produce licking flames to warm our cold, tired, post-sick bodies. All it could churn was a warm glow. It was enough.

I went upstairs to put clean sheets on my and Hubby's bed and the flannel sheets made their debut. I pulled the red flannels from their quiet resting spot in the linen closet and spread them out. I took solace in their tightly lined creases, whispering promises of a cozy, warm November slumber.

That evening, I stood in our laundry room. As I folded the heaps of sick laundry, I smiled to myself. Our faithful washing machine carried us through the maelstrom of sick and yuck. Despite the layers of tired and dark circles orbiting my eyes, the gratitude swelled from my heart and soul during, especially during, a bad sickness.

Both kids bathed. I could hear the strains of their individual chatter and singing.
Peripherally, I spied a stripe of resting sun peeking through a frigid, charcoal-stippled evening sky. One of Abby's watercolor paintings cheerfully beckoned from the laundry room wall. I stood, surrounded by the sturdy solace at the final curve of sick days. Alive with the evidence of life: warmth generated from the constantly spinning dryer. The click click clack of a zipper hitting the sides of the dryer drum hummed to me. I folded the five sets of clothes Henry wore yesterday. I folded many well-loved pajamas.

I garnered incredible solace handling all of their laundry--knowing what each stain represented,
what each of their days held, and knowing that they returned to me at the end of each one. I stood, saturated in the almost primitive workings of my home, my family. I stood, steeped in peace. Because I knew, with clarity, that these days will pass. My future holds many days of not knowing what they wore or where they were or what stained their clothes. My relationships with them will grow and morph, mirroring the children themselves. I know that when I look back on these years with my children, I will miss the complexity, simplicity, sureness and uncertainty of these times. And know that our current rhythms will be replaced by other shades of unrest, growth and certainty.

The kids exited the bathrooms. I dried Henry's body, pink with re-emerging health. I doused him with lotion and pulled fresh, still-warm jammies over his wet hair. He chattered away, describing how he'll detail his ER adventure to his teachers on Monday. I threw a pair of clean PJs to Abby, who ran stark-ass naked down the hall. Hubby would soon pull into the driveway, enter the house and bring with him a warm, delicious pizza.

Full. Contended calm. It was enough.

Malaise over past moments, when I didn't feel this calm, tried to sneak into and shatter my contended bliss. Tried to scold and condemn me for seemingly wasting away moments wrought with frustration and annoyance. At needy kids and heaps of laundry and little time. But instead of acquiescing to this judgmental chatter, I felt indebted to the past. For the evolving changes. For the grace of thankfulness. For the learning I've garnered as I traverse this life of mine. My steps surely delivered me to this moment of gratitude, for everything, as is. Enough.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Check List

1. Change my sheets yesterday. Check.
2. Make prediction to hubby that Henry is getting sick. Check.
3. Enjoy fresh sheets while sleeping last night. Check.
4. Wake up to pathetic, sick little boy whose tummy huwt and ear huwt. Check.
5. Proof of huwt tummy all over sheets. Check.
6. Strip previously fresh sheets, my pajamas and his pajamas for washing. Check.
6. Wash Henry and me. Check.
7. Repeat. Check.

1. Grateful we possess health insurance to go to the doctor. Check.
2. Grateful I have a working washer and dryer to clean up said messes. Check.
3. Grateful that I am here, caring for my sick son. Double check.