Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Mother's Day Past

Jake and Madison were about 5 and 7. I woke up to the sound of them in the kitchen directly below my bedroom. Because it was Mother's Day, I knew to wait. 

The scent of coffee drifted up and scared me a little. I couldn't quite imagine how they had figured out how to make coffee. This was the first Mother's Day without a father around to help them. Eventually I heard them ascending the stairs and chattering about how to manage without spillage. They entered my bedroom with the tray. A cup of coffee, a flower in a vase, some juice and a stack of toast. 

"Happy Mother's Day!" they both exclaimed, beaming with pride. I praised them lavishly for their detailed presentation.  "You even cut the crusts off of the toast for me!"I said, as I took a bite. I looked at Jake and he just smiled, but Madi chimed in loud and proud, "Well, that's because they were BLUE!"

Happy Mother's Day.


Wednesday, April 25, 2012

While We Try to Teach Our Children All About Life, Our Children Teach Us What Life Is All About

Originally posted May 8, 2008

Yesterday, I was relaxing on my front porch when I realized it was past time for my daughter to walk to her violin lesson down the street. I ran upstairs and reminded her. Madison is 13...a freckle-faced, beanpole that is almost taller than me. I'm reminded everyday what an awkward age 13 is. Still a child, but growing into an adult...too fast somedays. She has daily pressures to hurry up the growth process and I try my best to slow her down.

She grabbed her violin and was out the door. For a minute she walked out of my view behind our bushes and I was just about to yell "Hurry!", but just as I opened my mouth, she came into view.

Sauntering slowly along, with a dried-up dandelion in her hand, she blew the seeds into the air and watched them parachute around her.

I shut my mouth and smiled.

Take all the time you need, dear one.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Cycling through Italy

At 4:45 this morning, I left a perfectly good bed and sleeping partner to journey with six equally insane women.  As Amy picked me up, I laughed as I realized the hilarity of applying sunscreen before the sun was even up.

The seven of us caravanned about 60 miles to our starting point. Someone had a replacement tube and passed it around for everyone to ‘touch the tube’. Perhaps this would keep any of us from getting a flat tire. Still cool out, we debated about whether to wear sleeves. About 3 miles into our ride, we were glad we chose not to.

We had been warned that this ride was hilly. We are used to riding on relatively flat terrain.  About 16 miles in came a gloriously shaded and cool downhill. I checked my speed and clocked 34mph. Nothing compared to what racers do, but the fastest speed I had ever gone.  Around a lovely curve and then the markings for a right turn that I couldn’t yet see. 

And there it was. The first F-bomb of the day.  About halfway up a steep incline were four of my comrades….walking their bikes up the hill.  Completely unprepared to make it any other way, the rest of us dismounted and pushed our way up the hill. A skinny little guy come around the corner and bolted up the hill trying not to laugh at us. Ah, humility.

The second killer hill came soon after and although I tried my best to ride it, I ended up walking that one too.  There were others that we did ride though. My thighs are no longer hill virgins.

The scenery was beautiful and it was great to be on unfamiliar roads. I told Amy that we should pretend we were cycling in Italy.  At the next town we encountered, she said “Hey, It’s sure nice of this Italian village to have a water tower labeled in English!” That Amy doesn’t miss a beat.

At one point, Sue and I were going along, anxious for our first rest stop, when a male cyclist came up behind us. I kept looking back thinking that he was going to pass us. Eventually he said “I’m ok. Just taking a rest.” That’s the first time anyone has drafted off of me (usually the slowest in the pack)! Soon we arrived at the rest stop and I chatted with the draftee. I noticed he had an accent that I couldn’t recognize and when I mentioned the conversation to Amy, she replied “Italian!” And with the tortellini at 9am, a theme seemed to be developing.

The other theme in this ride was churches. Little ones with the quotable signs out front. The first one we encountered said "Hell really exists. Are you going?" We got a little chuckle over that one. Yes, we would experience it in about 40 miles!

Further down the road we convened at the dividing point where we had to decide whether we were riding 54 miles or 77. The 99 route was already ruled out by the smarter ones in our group. (I still had a silly pipedream.) Given that there were seven of us, it seemed too perfect for us to ride 77. Five of us turned left to finish 77, two turned right to finish a very respectable 54. There were many times during the rest of the 77 that I wished I had turned right.

As the sun rose, so did the temperature. Before the battery of my bike computer died, it registered 91 degrees.  The headwinds actually felt good since they had a cooling effect. The five miles prior to the next rest stop, I had thoughts of letting a sag wagon take me back. My head was tingly and my legs felt like lead. At one point I thought I heard a vehicle behind us and yelled “Car back!....I think. My ears might be hallucinating.”  Rachel started singing songs from Annie. We were officially delirious.

Next rest stop at mile 47 (BBQ sandwiches!) we sat and tried to figure out a strategy to get through the next thirty miles.  “It’s just a short Friday Night Ladies Ride!” said Rachel. I groaned. “It’s 3 ten mile rides!” Ok. Better. I can get behind this strategy. We slowly remounted and headed out. It was high noon.

About ten miles later, we entered one of the many small towns and decided we needed more refueling. Something cold. With caffeine perhaps. Our brains were fuzzy. I have never been more happy to see a Casey’s General Store in my life. I filled up a giant Coke, and then stumbled around the parking lot like I was drinking a pint of gin in a paper bag. I used the leftover ice to cool down the rest of us. No one even flinched when I dropped ice cubes down their tops. Good times.

The next twenty is a bit of a blur. More hills, more headwinds, more heat. As we got closer to the finish, we all remembered the warning that we got at registration. “There’s a big climb right at the end. Sorry about that.” And there it was. A long steady climb. Jenny, who talked me through those last twenty, gave me one last “We can do this!” and up we went. Under the blazing sun, it felt like my skin and muscles were on fire, but then there was the turn into the park.

Jenny and I arrived to cheers from the crew ahead of us and I wished I had been there to cheer them in.   We then realized that the ‘touch the tube’ moment had worked. No flat tires! Thank goodness. Not sure I would have had the strength and brain power to change one!

Sue and Amanda had patiently waited for two hours for us to arrive. We all shared our war stories and got more to eat and drink. We couldn’t help to just look at each other and laugh. What makes us do these crazy things? What are we trying to prove?

I thought of an article that a fellow Spokeswoman had posted. It included Eleanor Roosevelt’s quote “Do one thing everyday that scares you.” In other words, take risks and get out of your comfort zone. “Instead of talking myself out of things, I talked myself into them.” This is what we do. We talk ourselves and each other into these crazy things so that we can accomplish something out of the ordinary.

For me, it also means I get to spend a lot of time with some spectacular women, in places almost as beautiful as Italy.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Christmas Was Her Holiday

Christmas was her holiday.

She reveled in the true spirit of giving. She did not give to receive. She gave because she truly loved searching for the perfect color, the perfect texture, the perfect shape, the things that would make our eyes sparkle. Not once did I ever hear her complain about the commercial rush of the holidays. She weaved around the chaos and stayed grounded in love and generosity.

Some years she would arrive heavy suitcases in tow, treasures for all tucked inside along with the ribbons and extra tape. Then she would spend hours hiding in the guest bedroom, folding and wrapping and stacking and sorting. She was our Santa.

Other times, the packages would preempt her arrival. Or we would go to her. When we all made the trek to her, those were the ones I remember most. This new geography that she made her home was the backdrop of every perfect Christmas card. Towering evergreens, snow on the ground, regal homes tucked in hillsides and Norman Rockwell villages.

There were no idyllic nights singing Christmas carols or baking cookies. She didn’t try to set up the perfect holiday for us. She provided the warmth, the peace, the love and the laughter. If there was drama…and there usually was…she listened and encouraged us to talk it through. Always the peacemaker and the caregiver.

So when I wonder how to make this holiday special for my own children, I learn from her. Offer some love wrapped in pretty paper, carve a wide path in the snow, light the way with laughter and help when the walk becomes slippery.

Warmth, love, laughter and light to you and yours.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Transformations, Zen and Impermanence

In 2003, I drove with my Dad and two kids to Montana. I was going to a family reunion to meet a branch of my family tree that at the age of 40, I had never met before. These were my Dad's cousins, who he had been out of touch with since he was in college. He had recently rediscovered them and knew that I would love them. That was an understatement.

The reunion was held in a church camp site in southern Montana. As the crow flies, we were just miles from Yellowstone, but with a tricky mountain range separating us. There were no TV's, no access to cell phones. It was pure heaven. We spent the days hiking and getting to know each other. We spent the nights around a raging campfire, laughing and telling stories.

One afternoon, my 'uncle' Paul and my cousin Karl were planning to obtain a topographical map of the peak in view of our camp and spend the following day climbing it. Paul was a Biologist. Going on a walk in the woods with him was like a biology lesson in itself. Karl, in his 30's had just finished his PhD in chemical engineering. While the rest of us slept in cabins, Karl opted for a one-man tent deeper into the woods. Tales of bears didn't bother him. He is an experienced climber and outdoorsman. Not only are these two men wildly intelligent, but they are the warmest, friendliest, most open men you could ever meet.  When I asked them if I could join them on their climb, they didn't hesitate to welcome me. 

The next day we set out before dawn. I'll never forget Madi getting up to give me a hug and see me off on my adventure. We would be back before nightfall. 

There were no trails on this mountain. Mostly we traversed what we called 'boulder fields'. Massive boulders of granite that had fallen off the mountain in centuries past. They call for deliberate steps. Each boulder is at a different angle than the next. Some are solid on the ground. Others are wobbly and I imagined critters underneath. As we alternated between boulder traversing and trailblazing, Paul would point out bear scat or rare plants and tell us stories.

As we continued hiking up the mountain, the boulder fields grew wider and my legs began to tire. The three of us walked quietly, concentrating on every step. It was then that I reached the Zen moment that I'd been reading about. All the other thoughts that normally crowded my brain faded away and I was clearly in the moment. I could feel the muscles in my body straining and hear my breath. The scents, the sounds of the mountain were completely clear to me.

It was a moment and a day I'll never forget.


I can be all these things every minute of every day, but some days all I want is for the right person to say...

“It will be ok. I’ll take care of it. Let’s go for a ride.”

Monday, July 12, 2010

Ripe But Not Rotten

I’ve been reading The Season’s on Henry’s Farm by Terra Brockman. Terra is the sister of Henry Brockman, who supplies me with the majority of my vegetables, and Teresa who supplies me with the majority of my fruits. The Brockman’s have an organic, sustainable farm twenty miles from my home. Each week throughout the summer and fall, they come into town and supply lots of families with shares of beautiful produce. I love the format of Terra’s book because she chose to write each chapter as a chronological week on the farm. The first chapter is a week in November when the garlic crop is planted. When I realized her format, I decided to read a chapter a week, so each time I read a chapter I learn about a process on the farm that is happening right now.

This week’s chapter is entitled Ripe and Rotten. It’s about the fruits and vegetables that aren’t beautiful enough to be sold to the public. Because their produce isn’t genetically modified or treated with chemicals they have a fair amount that are split, bruised, too small or too large. Terra goes into detailed description about an imperfect peach that has a few moldy spots and wormholes. Yet she simply cleans off those spots, splits it in half with her fingers to make sure there aren’t any worms inside and then “I bring it to my nose and read its spicy-sweet promise…the juice runs down my chin as I slurp away, wanting to bury my whole face in the utter bliss of it.” She then goes on to talk about our intolerance for imperfections. We don’t choose our friends by the way they look, she says. We choose them for their personality, intelligence, wit, etc.

I smiled when I read this. I had just had this conversation with a dear friend of mine when we were driving home from a visitation of an old friend of ours. We knew Mark and his brother, Keith, back in high school. Their family had lived in that area for a long time. Like most people in the small community, they were farmers and everyone knew them. Mark and Keith were stars on the winning basketball and football teams. They were not typically ‘model’ good-looking, but as soon as you met them, you got a sense of who they were and immediately loved them. They were funny, open, friendly and genuinely kind to everyone and, well, they were a little bit wild, so very fun to be around.

Going back for the visitation of Mark and his son, while extremely sad because of the tragic circumstances, was therapeutic because we were able to visit with the people we grew up with. After thirty years, some had changed dramatically, but most had physically changed very little. Maybe we had grown a bit wider with wrinkles or sunspots to give us character. I actually love looking for those ‘imperfections’ in people as they age. I find them much more interesting and beautiful than the faces that have been surgically altered to appear youthful. Perhaps it’s because by the time we’re in our 40s and 50s, we have (hopefully) become comfortable in our own skin and can fully reveal what is inside.

At the start of the visitation line was Keith, and although he was deeply mourning the loss of his big brother and nephew, he gave us a wide smile and a huge hug. He spoke eloquently about his feelings about the accident and what this outpouring of community meant to him. He was still as beautiful and warm as I remembered. Our bruised and wrinkled exteriors didn’t matter. We were there to comfort each other in friendship and love.

When I approached the open caskets of Mark and his young son, I chose not to look. I knew the accident had not been gentle to their bodies. Their shells were empty and I wanted to remember their lively smiles and their fragrant, juicy souls instead.