Growing Older

Perhaps it should be “getting older.”  To say something or someone is “growing” suggests to me an upward movement or a progression in a positive direction.  In my experience with grandparents and acquaintances, when they speak of aging, they say “Getting old,” and they usually conclude with, “isn’t fun” or “isn’t what they thought it would be.”

This winter, I’ve felt older.  I love drinking my coffee or tea and watching the snow fall outside, blanketing everything in stillness and cold.  I put on another layer to keep myself warm.  Before the kids ask if they can go outside, I’ve heard them plotting their course of action, developing their snowy agenda.  Their enthusiasm builds into a palpable energy, and with it my anger begins to rise.  No, I don’t want them to go outside.  They’ll be out there for 5, maybe 10, minutes and will come in, disrobe, and leave me with two extra loads of laundry to do after I’ve made them a hot cup of cocoa.

I feel older because I had to convince myself to let them play outside.  I might have told them “no” at first, but I did let them go out; I even helped them pile on the layers that I knew would be left for me to clean up later.  This is their youth, after all.  I did the same when I was younger.  Now I’ll just have to be perfectly content with the cup of coffee and the pending laundry.  At least I have the young children still around to remind me of what it’s like to be young.  They share their vibrant energy with me.  They wouldn’t mind if I came out to play with them.  I could let go of my anger and frustration and let myself enjoy the moment.

It’s okay.  I’ll get older with acceptance.  Each day I’ll understand a little better what my foremothers experienced.  Maybe I’ll be able to equip my children for what’s to come.  As far as I can tell, though, the only way I can do that is to help them be aware and to choose to experience this moment without judgement.  It’s neither good nor bad; it just is.

Our responsibilities change with time.  Our frame of reference changes.  Our whole life circumstances can turn in a moment.  Whether we’re 3, 33, or 93, we still are who we are.

Time is such a funny thing.

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Where I Put My Energy

If I were to divide my day into percentages of where I put my energy, I might sound like a maid or a cook on the weekends, and I’d be a receptionist/admin during the week.  That’s what is real for me right now.  I have a family of six to tend to and a full-time job come weekdays.

It’s the other moments, though, that I have a choice over how to spend my energy.  Some things have to be done, but I also have an inner child to indulge, a gift to cultivate, a calling to follow.  Some things can’t be ignored.

So on snow days like this, I give thanks that I have the opportunity to catch up on laundry and housework, making sure the children are bathing.  During last week’s snow days, I got caught up on some (not all) of my volunteer tasks.

I’ve also been doing some of the other things, the things I do for me.  Like reading.  Blogging.  Cleaning up and clearing out some things that have been cluttered.  Spending time with husband.  Did I mention reading?  Reading is a stimulus to me to write.  I even chose not to finish a book because it wasn’t doing anything for me.  I even got rid of half of my fabric stash because I don’t have time to create several pieced quilts.  My time is precious.  Every moment counts.  Do the things I surround myself with contribute to a positive energy?  Do I spend my time and energy wisely?

If I looked at my “free” time, did I spend it writing or cultivating my writing craft?  If not, then can I honestly call myself a writer?  This is no small pondering; this is serious.

Leave it to almost two feet of snow to cave me in with my thoughts and the freedom to choose how I will spend the day and night.  Who will I choose to be in any given moment?

Where do you put your energy, and what does it say about you?

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Grandma’s House

All I have to do is saute some onions and celery in butter, and my husband salivates.  Get a good meal cooking and baking, and I’m likely to hear, “Smells like my grandma’s house in here.”  More often than not, I hear such a comment when I’m frying potatoes, okra, pancakes, or especially bacon.

While my husband’s sensory recall is triggered by smell, it’s the very act of preparing a meal itself that takes me to my grandmothers’ kitchens and mealtimes.  On weekends when our whole schedule is determined by when and what our meals are, I realize why I associate mealtimes with my grandparents and why my husband also associates mealtime smells with his grandma’s house.

We both come from subtly matriarchies.  Sure, our forefathers were the bread-winners, but it was and is the mothers who keep the home, prepare the meals, provide most of the childcare and tending, and encourage the religious traditions.  Our foremothers have held the family together.  As they’ve passed, so has the golden thread that tied our families together almost imperceptibly.  Even gold over time wears thin.  Time changes things.  People change.

My husband and I are most fortunate to have the memories we do.  Our grandmothers loved and love us unconditionally.  They dedicated their days to make sure that when we were around, they  nurtured us the best way they knew how — through our stomachs.  What could best assure our survival than a full belly?  These queens of the kitchen knew how to make the groceries last for their respectively large families, and I certainly never wanted for food.

I learned so much about cooking itself in the kitchen with my grandmothers, trying not to be in the way.  How to pinch a pie crust.  Learning how to make eight hamburgers at once in two cast-iron skillets on the stovetop.  Shortcuts to make quick desserts for unexpected visitors.  That there was enough time to bake a meatloaf while you were at church.  Some lessons weren’t just about cooking.  One grandmother still had dreams of things she wanted to do.  One grandmother wanted so much for me to make choices that would help me lead a different, and somehow better, life.  Such lessons are hard to understand without the experience behind them, but I honor these lessons still, even if I didn’t heed their wisdom and advice.

The next time I return home later in the day after a morning breakfast that included pancakes and bacon, I’ll try not to turn my nose in distate.  It means we provided for our family.  We are giving our children associations to their childhood that, when they reflect upon it later, will hopefully tell them we cared for them by nourishing them, not intentionally giving them heart disease.  May I have the patience to welcome them into my kitchen and try to teach them as subtly as my grandmothers tried with me.  May I pass on a cookbook to them of their favorites so that they won’t have to labor like my husband in trying to recreate family favorites.  Is there more to taste than simple ingredients?

Our family dynamics have changed.  We don’t always go to “Mother’s” or “Grandma’s” for Sunday dinner anymore.  Our sense of family includes a wide range of friends.  Still, though, our primary focus is our shared meals, the time we spend preparing, gathering and sharing in the kitchen and at the table.

Our grandmas were and are beautiful teachers.

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Shortcuts and Canopy Roads

Darting between errands in a relatively small city, one learns the cut-throughs; there’s more than one way to get from point A to point B.  At five o’clock I’m certainly prone to taking such a route, especially when on my way to a mega-store.

The light was fading, my tummy wasn’t feeling good, and a long weekend was coming to a close.  I didn’t really want to do the shopping that HAD to be done.  I wasn’t particularly happy about being one of the motorists out at rush hour.  I should have been home making dinner, not buying the goods so I could do so.

Just as I was about to reach the straight stretch on the back road, just pass the interstate intersection, I spied a police car sitting in a drive, facing outward, waiting to catch someone like me — someone who thought they might get somewhere a little faster by out-smarting the rest of the drivers and possibly by disobeying some speed limit laws.  I see you, Mr. Officer.  Thanks for reminding me to take it easy; it is the law, after all.  I’ll get to where I’m going safely if I pay attention and slow down no matter which road I take.

So I make sure I’m going 35mph or less and enjoy this little road.  Thinking back to it, I can’t even recall if it has a center line, though I’m sure it does.  There are old farmhouses and pastures.  Barbed-wire fences with trees and bushes.  The trees grow up and over the road, forming what the kids and I call a “canopy road,” our favorite kind.

And there were deer.  Two of them.  Stopped and staring at me.  One was on the road to the right, in my lane, and the other was beside it, just off the road.  I’m sure it’s looking at the van and not me, this mama-looking deer who was out with a fellow doe.  Going slowly as I was, I slowed almost to a stop and mosied by even slower, making sure they didn’t bolt across the way I was going.  “Excuse me,” I said politely, humbly.  After all, this is their woods.  Without our intrusion and given time, our pavement and concrete and feeble structures would crumble aside.  The fauna would continue to grow and the animals to roam.  I am but a guest here.  Please pardon my arrogant intrusion.  Please bless my path.

I realize that in this small stretch of road on which for a few moments I was the only traveller, I went from seeing it as my right to take a shortcut on my all-important mission of saving time and frustration to seeing it as an opportunity and gift to slow down, enjoying what nature offers.

Then, of course, I returned to a busier road, six cars passing before I could turn into the stream.  I made it to the fluorescent-lit mega warehouse for the grocery shopping necessary for a family of six.  I went home to make dinner and then stay up much of the night with four of us working our way through a stomach virus.  The next day, we slept and rested.  One of us didn’t get sick (the older son).  You just never know.

I am pretty certain about a couple of things, though.  There’s a time for everything.  There are blessings everywhere.

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There is Enough

There is enough . . . if we share.  It’s not just a lesson to the kids when they think — when they know — that they don’t have exactly what a sibling or a classmate has.  As if they didn’t have enough of their own.  There are plenty of toys.  There is plenty of food.

Unless you are deprived of something, unless others are not willing to share or have the authority or audacity to take some thing away from you, don’t you have enough?

The seemingly homeless man on the side of the road held a sign.

“I have EVERYTHING I need except money.  Do you have the COURAGE to give?”

As a matter of fact, I happen to have some dollar coins from our visit to the amusement park last week.  Let me share some of our abundance.  Let me ask him where he lives.  Let me hear that he does indeed live around here; that he thinks this is a nice place to live.  As I agree with him, I look directly into his eyes, smiling yet wondering how this could be a lovely place to live if he’s standing on the side of the off-ramp asking for money.  He did say he has everything else he needs.  Money isn’t everything.

Visiting a dying friend, before I took my leave, I said, “Love to you, my friend.”  Drugged as she was, she half-laughed.  “You said love.  How can you  . . . ”  Her voice trailed off.  I understand.  We’re not close friends.  My coming to her is largely in part of a pastoral visit, but in my visits to her, sincerity wins over any sense of obligation.  “I try to share my love with everyone,” I tell her gently.  “It’s part of our responsibility in this life to share God’s love with one another.  You are my sister.”  Eyes closed, she smiled subtly.

We do not see reality the same as one another.  Our perspectives and interpretations are different.  Ultimately, there is one Earth.  One Source.  Our time here is too precious to live in fear, in a sense of lack.

What if we believed we had everything we need.  What if we made sure that we all had everything we needed?  Sure, take care of you and yours, but where does your responsibility end?  Is there a limit to abundance?  I don’t think so.

I only hope I can live into the dream of everyone having everything they need.  Enough to live.  Enough love.  Enough is enough, gently said.

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Ice & Sun

Thanksgiving Eve I found myself at the wholesale club post-dinner wondering why I waited, yet again, until the last minute to do this.  Kids to bed, cooking underway, I spent the night on the couch, falling asleep but for the grace that woke me as the boiling potato sputter burned on the stovetop and the lid rattled in low undertone.  The iPad had gone to sleep, too, but the sweet potatoes still needed time in the oven.  Potatoes drained, oven off, I figured all would be well a few more hours when I would be awake enough to conjure up the salad and casserole.

Thanksgiving morning NPR told me the Macy’s Day Parade was underway.  I grinned to myself, remembering in my childhood the warmth of the kitchen creeping into the living room where the t.v. blared the parade and I watched the floats make their way through the seemingly small streets.  It was a day of rest for me then.  Now, looking through my steamed-up kitchen window at the sink, I realize how much work we do.  But in yet another moment of grace, I realize how much I love my family.  For a moment, it feels again like this is my job.  I’m not a working mother, I am a mother, wholly and completely.  (Still, I have to consciously resist saying “just a mom.”)

I was only joking when a co-worker and I marveled at the warm weather earlier this week.  Our office felt like a sauna, and I was grateful for my layered clothing and the ability for others to open their windows in the old building to give me fresh air.  “Don’t worry,” I told her.  “It’ll probably snow next week.”  I was just joking.  But the weather forecast mentioned freezing weather.  My husband researched about chickens in cold weather, what we needed to watch out for and check into.  We got the wintry mix and a few minutes of all-out snow on our way to the relatives Thanksgiving day.  Snow is forecasted next week, too.  You just never know around here.

There’s something about the ice that coated everything around our relatives’ homes.  There was something different this year that I haven’t been able to put my finger on yet, adhere coherent thoughts to.  I do know that there wasn’t ice on our limbs at home, only 30 minutes away.  Maybe it’s just the memory, frozen in time.

Post-Thanksgiving, I slept until 8:30 or so.  It is cold.  The chickens are still alive, though their water did freeze, even in their coop.  (Husband is winterizing their coop more today, even as I write, and they are all out chasing the same bug apparently, in a frenzy.)  I skip the Black Friday madness.  Not everyone participates in that frenzy, but I mentioned to my daughter that we might stop at the bookstore and a couple of thrift stores.  It is a weekday I have off, and I actually have some energy to something other than laundry.  (Of course, tonight there are a few home projects that might be started to last all weekend.  Watch out bathroom and garage!)

I signed up on Ravelry.  I sent a sincere e-mail to a friend.  I have other calls to make.  My gratitude continues this day.

I’ll hem some pants, make a Christmas list, and fill the Advent calendar with a new list of somethings to build onto the anticipation of Christmas in a meaningful way.

Most importantly, my gratitude continues.  On this bright sunny day, no matter how cold it is outside, my heart is warm.  I am a mother, a wife, a worker, a daughter and granddaughter.  My own daughter plays, softly talking for and with her toys, sweetly singing every now and then.  Life is simple and sweet, some moments more than others.

All we ever have is this moment at any given time.  For this I am grateful.  It is a beautiful life.

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Autumnal Thoughts

Denial.  Longing.  Wonder.  Sadness.  Hope.

In the span of a few hours, these are some of the feelings or emotions or thoughts streaming through my consciousness.  As the daylight decreases, nature tells me not-so-subtly that now is the time to be serious about what I am going to lay fallow this winter.

Mainly I cannot believe fall is nearly complete. Some of the trees still haven’t dropped their leaves. It seems last week the ginkos finally decided to go ahead and let go, but there are still some maples ablaze. This week is Thanksgiving.  I haven’t yet put Halloween in the attic, and I haven’t done our grocery shopping . . . or even made a menu/list.  I’m already seeing Christmas lights.

I long for what I can’t have right now. Leisurely time to cook, to plan, to watch the kids think and grow, to create, to write, to daydream out the window into the dazzling autumn light or through the heavy gray. I yearn to take back all that I’ve taken for granted in the past year.  I long to be.  I’d also like to do everything better.  I’d like to do and get done that which needs to be done.

Yet I’m amazed at all that has passed, all the blessings we have. I cannot fathom the significance of all that is and is to come, and I wonder at how all these pieces will fall into place. There is so much Mystery. . .

. . . and so much suffering. I can’t help sometimes from letting it creep up on me, dwelling on it a bit too long. Whether it be personal, trivial dis-ease or greater, universal suffering, it can catch me off-guard and sit heavy on my heart. This must be carefully tended in these winter months.

As the song and sound of the children’s choir rings gently and beautifully in my mind, I sense the hope that Light brings and feel the cycle moving onward, forward, bringing me with it. Light and shadow and ever-present hope through faith. Unexplainable, really. Beyond words. Now is a time to live into the experience and learn as much as possible. My teachers are everywhere. I kiss them good-night. I listen to their stories. I wonder at them and with them. I laugh. I cry. Always, though, I am learning and growing.

The leaves are falling.
The roots run deep in my soul.
What will spring reveal?

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Same Dance, New Music

Given my life story, I realize that I do believe in a Purpose. We all have at least one. I also love viewing this life as a cosmic dance; we all come together at different stages, go through the steps, however awkward they may be, and keep moving, guided by a rhythm we can hear and feel but can’t really see. Some partners we stay with for a long while. Some partners are there only a bit. Sometimes we’re a group dance, all working together in this divine choreography. I’d rather picture an aerial view of an elegant ballroom, but I know that reality is sometimes like the dark and sweaty clubs with the music so loud you can’t hear one another.

My dance right now takes me into a new room, just as large as where I was before. I’m just having to learn new steps, become familiar with my new partners. It’s still dancing. There’s just a different music playing. Fortunately for me, the music permeates from within the University like a ballroom would, I imagine. Walking across campus yesterday, I wondered if all campuses feel that way on warm fall afternoons: still, studious, alive, wise, full of potentiality. A university campus is so full of those so young, most eager, as well as those who have learned so much, most wise. It’s an electric blend, I suppose, palpable.

So we dance with one another. We share our gifts with ease, no matter how difficult the steps may be. We learn our way into cultivating our talents through practice, practice, practice. No matter where we are or what the music, whether we like it or not, we keep dancing.

And we realize that we are in this together.

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imPerfection

We read a poem this weekend that had to be written by a kindred.  Her words spoke in my language, spoke in truth.  I cannot find her complete poem on-line, though there are partial reprints.  Elizabeth Carlson’s “Imperfections” can be found in this book, however.  I dare not repost the perfect little poem in its entirety, what with copyright laws and all.

What I can post is my own writing, though.  After listening to and with Carlson’s poem a bit, we got to go our solitary ways.  I listen well when I am writing, when I am doing nearly anything.  To listen for my own imperfections at a deeper level, I sat.  I wrote.  This is what surfaced.  (I apologize in advance that I cannot get the spacing to change, so pardon the stanza run-on! I tried.)

“imPerfection”

I can sit with the ants in the dappled light

On this, another awe-inspiring autumn morning.

What mysteries might the breeze whisper in my ear?

What chatter does that strange creature

echo from my monkey brain?

Usually I listen for the wisdom I stumble upon,

Doing the tasks that need be done.

For once, at least,

I let myself

discover

my Self.

May the pen be my trowel

And my busy-ness the weeds

I remove from the soil.

The soil is rich and fertile.

Or maybe I fold the distractions

Away

With each shirt, pants, and sock.

Some thoughts need to dry in

Their own time.

No dirty nails this time to

Show for my effort.

Digging deep.

What are the treasures?

I cannot be rid of the roots from the species

Too invasive.

This is hard,

too hard.

But the longer I ignore them, the harder it gets

To let the soil be rich,

To appreciate the beauty

That is there if only

It, too, could obtain the resources

Stolen

by that which needs the

Persistent practice,

The daily tending.

It helps to name the

bermuda grasses of my being.

I cannot ignore the

Reality of money,

The need to connect with my family,

The limits of time.

I have to give up this idea of

Stagnant Perfection.

A garden is not a photograph.

It teems with

Life and Intention,

with Persistent Practice.

Blood and sweat, surely,

From the thorns and twigs of

Truth

Running

Deep.

I didn’t plant the oak tree there

Or the rose there.

Gifts of vulnerable strength and

Fragile beauty.

Timeless, both, and full of

Grace.

The mosquito offers its own poison

As it draws my blood,

Leaving the stinging itch

That will gnaw like the

Censor to challenge any

Gift I may unearth and

Lay claim to.

But it, too, will fade.

And even after my blood

Is dried and gone,

The earth remains to

Receive again

That which it gave.

Live into this cycle,

every moment.

Practice persistence with

Compassion

and

Gratitude,

whether with the harvest of the Earth

or the

Fruits of our wombs.

All is still and alive.

All is well.

This I am told.

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Shadow Exploration

Realizing yesterday that I had hit a tender point in my own phyche, I decided to do a little exploration.

Why would I react with skepticism to an author and book that I have every reason to enjoy, when while reading Twilight, I actually got defensive for and even justified Stephanie Meyer?  (She followed through with a dream.  She gave it a shot.  She’s a mom finding time to write.  Etc.  Etc.)

Honestly, I haven’t decided yet exactly what my reaction means or says about me.  All I can say is that I’m enjoying Eat, Pray, Love now and am truly grateful to Elizabeth Gilbert for sharing her physical and spiritual journeys with us.  So many Westerners do not have exposure to other cultures, lifestyles, and ways of being.  At the very least, I’ve realized that I can count myself lucky.  (Honestly, how many 6-year-olds sit at a table where pesto is being served and say, “I smell pizza!” or decide that for quiet time they need to sit and meditate?)

All I can conclude is that I’m jealous, so rather than be jealous, I’m going to revel in the fact that a fellow dear heart has gotten to explore not only the globe but the depths of her being.  And she shared with others, perhaps hoping to broaden their horizons, their understanding, their very potentiality.

That may very well be where I feel defensive.  Am I living into my own potentiality?  Am I living up to all that I’ve been given to be?

Our shadows can be great teachers and an asset to our lives.  They are not meant to be solely suppressed and locked away, ignored.  They can be a strength as well as a weakness, like any aspect of our character.  Now, obviously, it’s time for me to evaluate my potential and do the work that I’ve been given to do.

No one said it was easy, this blessed life.

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