Family, Marriage, Work

spring cleaning through the years

I want someone to tell me how to get through the bad days.

  • When the hubs arrived at work he found our motorized gate broken.  Again.  Hours are spent dismantling the motor and eventually removing it.
  • When I drive into our parking lot I watch a woman dump clothes on our public easement.  I yell to her to pick-up her used clothes and she walks away.  I am left to put them in our trash bin.
  • The J-bolts from the platers are mottled and rejected.  It is when we question the quality that we discover they’ve also increased their price with new ownership.

It’s days like this when we feel the burden of small business.

Hours in labor spent maintaining our building and equipment.  Picking up other people’s messes.  Whether it’s used clothes, low quality plating or just unprofessional practices we are left to our own devices.  Most times we eat the cost.

  • At home I stare at the washing machine wondering why it won’t spin.  Again, the hubs spends time dismantling.
  • I walk into bedrooms with overfilled hampers because sons don’t understand to lift the lid to place the dirty clothes, inside the receptacle.  I yell to my sons to pick-up their clothes and they walk away.  “Okay, Mom,” is all I get and so I leave the mess.
  • I look at progress reports with grades that I cannot accept.  I question the quality of time my boys put into their studies since their primary responsibility is to do well in school.

I feel the burden of parenting tweens and teens.

After work I spend time maintaining our house and appliances.  I am cleaning up my family’s messes in the place that is supposed to be my sanctuary.  Whether it’s dirty laundry, dishes or irresponsible sons who make poor choices and don’t have their priorities straight, I feel the mental and emotional cost.

I am spent.  Financially.  Physically.  Mentally.  I tell my husband, I am done as we dejectedly sit across the desk at work.  He is too.

 

This past weekend, my father in-law (FIL)  requested the help of our eldest son with the upkeep of a car.  Eight hours were spent doing various things as the grandfather passed his car knowledge to his grandson. First he was under the hood learning about the parts of the motor.   Later I found myself stepping over my husband and son, under the car, as they discussed what to do with the oil pan while my FIL stood nearby supervising and instructing.  Finally, bemused, I pulled up a chair as I listened to the grandfather explaining to the grandson how to detail a car interior.

I found myself detailing my own car’s interior.  It had been untouched for years and as I scrubbed and emptied the Simple Green spray bottle, my seemingly random, disorganized thoughts formed together.

When you don’t do what you love or love what you do, it makes getting up in the morning that much harder.   It’s not realistic, sometimes, to love life.

There are days when I don’t even like the ones I’m supposed to love.

I wake up each morning wondering, What am I supposed to do?

I want someone to tell me the answers but really, I need to figure this one out for myself.   If someone else tells me what to do, it’s easy to not accept ownership; to blame others.

I scrubbed years of grease from my car’s upholstery and carpets.  I saw the cracks and tears, the mottled colors.  But my vehicle feels new.

I accept the scars and abuse my interior has endured; remembering how they got there.

…the time my youngest son thought my light gray leather interior was a drawing board and chose to write on our dashboard with Sharpie pen.

…the double phone charger at the bottom of the seat pocket, bought in Arizona outside the Grand Canyon, as the older boys constantly fought for the lone rear battery outlet.

…the indentations from the carseats all of my sons formerly sat in.

…the sticky markings on the car ceiling from the soda that exploded as we rose in altitude during a snowy Memorial day camping trip.

It took several hours to detail the inside of my car.   Normally I take care of the exterior, the big things that people see, and sweep things under the rug to deal with another day.   I have spent the least amount of time maintaining the interior.  Thankfully, my hubs handles most things under the hood which allows my car to run.

When I drive my SUV, on a daily basis, I don’t see the outside.  I live and breathe on the inside.  A lot of my time is spent behind the wheel commuting to work, shuttling kids to/from school.   My most meaningful conversations with my family occur within this car’s interior whether it be on short trips or long ones.

I was mistaken in thinking my house was my sanctuary.  The reality is, my happy place is in my car…windows down, music blaring as yellow lines blur in open spaces.  I love my solo commute to work but I also love people driving in my car with me to infinity, and beyond.

While reading the novel, The Girl Before by J.P. Delaney for our monthly book club, the line resonates.

You can make your surroundings as polished and empty as you like.  But it doesn’t really matter if you’re still messed up inside.  And that’s all anyone’s looking for really, isn’t it?  Someone to take care of the mess inside our heads?

I finally took ownership of it.  All of it.  It is time to repair, clean and maintain my mental interior.

In dealing with a sticky situation, in one of the organizations which I serve, I found myself seeking answers once again.  My goal is always transparency but the time has come for me to stand my ground, to stop having others tell me what to do based on past history.  To filter and sort my words.

I know what I need to do.  I trust my gut.  And so my boundaries are becoming defined as I mentally prepare for uncomfortable and awkward moments to do the right thing.  To handle the messy details.  To not sweep things under the rug to help someone save face for appearances’ sake.

I must deal with my mental interior and sift through the clutter and detritus.  To make things simple and wipe away at the years of neglect, accumulated gripes and pent-up frustrations.

I will let go of the idea that I must love what I do and shoulder the things life brings my way; to carry my own weight.

The reality of life is that there are many things we do not like to do, that must be done.  To consistently wake up each and every day with the goal of trying to be the best person that I can be.  And not just for me.

I strive to stop worrying about appearances and embrace the people whose relationships keep my cup full.  The ones who make me get out of bed every morning who need me; and I, them.  There will soon be a day where there will be no mess to pick up after (okay, maybe the hubs but someday, not even him).  There are days when nothing needs to be repaired and all things are pristine.

I gaze over to my grease covered hubs as he labors beneath the machine with our employee.  I don’t have to love what I’m doing every single minute of the day.  I can do without the tenant drama behind our building, the broken gates, the shoddy workmanship from vendors, the not-so-reliable appliances at home and my broken kitchen tile.

The accumulated daily grime, through the years, builds and it’s time to spring clean and make it like new.  Scars, flaws, head clutter and all.

Most days I don’t love what I do.  But I work alongside the hubs, the one I love.

It’s never really been about the money, the candy and roses.  It’s about going through the monotonous daily grind, through the years, with someone who loves me unconditionally and helps me take care of the mess inside my head.

I trust my heart.  I own this.

 

 

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Family

sitting still

It’s hard to sit still.  To let life blur past, spinning on its axis while I remain in one spot; unmoving.  It is normally not my modus operandi (m.o.) to sit still.

But sit still, I do.

As our family schedule transitioned from hectic end-of-school activities to the summer we, traditionally, jumped right into Father’s day, two of my three sons’ birthdays, the 4th of July and various camping excursions and vacations.  We are always on the go and my most favorite pastime is sitting in the passenger seat as the yellow center lines on highways blur.  The camera strap causes neck burn as I twist and turn snapping shots from my wide lens.

I laughed out loud as a line from Jamie Lee Curtis & Laura Cornell’s book, It’s Hard to Be Five, came to mind.

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Most summers I leap from one hectic schedule to another, keeping busy with vacation itineraries.  My hubby, the type B personality, is happy to stay put while I schedule various points of interest to sight see.  His constant complaint that there is no rest or relaxation on vacation falls on deaf ears as the boys and I look for the next thing to visit; happily tired at the end of each day.  Our summer months usually are filled with leisurely things to do.  Things that are fun.  But to some, leisurely means staying in one place and taking in the scenery.

Last year we traveled too often; neglecting things needed to be done at home: the garden, the garage, unplugged family time.  We stayed busy to distract us from the normal, mundane every day but when all was said and done, it still awaited us when we returned.

The epiphany came recently.  My constantly busy personality stems from a very boring and lonely childhood.  Our sole trip, each summer, was a one week trip into the city from our rural town to visit family.  Sometimes I would be asked to join trips with a friend; but most times I remained at home.  As an only child I entertained myself with books, reading of faraway places.  I often dreamed of what life would be like away from this small town and would get absorbed in music to pass the time.  Each day seemed to remain the same.  This was my life for the first seventeen years.

Once I moved away to university my life never stopped.  I ran to catch up with the years I missed to pursue bigger and better things.  I moved further away to pursue post grad studies across various state lines.  On my very first cross country road trip; the boyfriend (soon-to-be fiance and hubs), shared the drive to help me move.  My fond memories of road trips stemmed from our to and fro on Interstates 10, 20, 40 and many more.  He and I have since traveled to many places near and far by plane and by car.

I glanced at Fakebook at the vacation pictures from friends as the hubs glanced over my shoulder.  We both feel the pull to travel, to get on the road and go and as the long 4th of July weekend approached; we began to consider options.  Our summer plans to Yellowstone/Grand Tetons were re-scheduled to next summer due to school related activities for our two teenage sons.  This year, due to work and school related commitments, we have only traveled once.

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I long for redwood trees and tall mountains, large bodies of water and purple clouds strewn across red and orange sunsets.  I enviously glance at other friends’ scenic outdoor pictures and pull up the gallery of my own.  But pictures don’t do the outdoors justice.  I need to be out there too.  I am counting the days until we meet my childhood girlfriend and her family for camping; a trip that is becoming an annual outing for us both.  We come from the same place.

I continue to sit still.

I purposely chose to remain home for the first part of the summer.  Why?  To decompress.  To adjust.  With most social obligations on hiatus, I have chosen to find my inner introvert.  To fill my time and space with nothing but my own breath and thoughts.  The silence is deafening and I struggle to sit with it.  To let it wrap itself around me; like a peaceful, comfortable item of clothing.

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I’m trying this one on for size this summer.  And it is hard.  I am easily distracted and default to complacency.

In my mind I see the outdoor places I long to be.  Sunsets on lava rocks; waves rolling to the shoreline.  Boulders in rivers as my sons and dog swim in the cold flowing waters.  High vistas spanning miles of natural landscape.  I center these things in my mind for brief moments and open my eyes to where I am at the present moment.  And I sit still.  I have always told myself that if only I was: (fill in the blank) that all things would be better.  But really, I need to clear that mental block.

I. am. here.  Enjoy where I am right now.  There are too many if onlys and too little nows.  These past years I’ve lived my life in the rear view instead of the present moment.

I move from one room to another in my home, following the sun with a book in hand.  I sit on warm concrete with a towel, the sun filtering through my hat.  I put away dishes and focus on the scenery of my yard instead of the cracked tile that sits nearby.  I soften my gaze to see the green plants out my kitchen window.  The ones that create my landscape; clearing mental images of outdoor vistas of past trips.  Instead I evoke the feelings of gratitude and appreciation from these memories to the present ones.

This mental work makes all the difference.  I don’t have to travel to other places, rely on external people or things to bring me happiness or to affirm who I am.  Instead of distracting myself with itineraries and busy work I sit still and do my mental work.  I am grateful for right now.

My need to move is based on not dealing with things not dealt with.  I now do the simple tasks to fix these little things in my every day so that each moment isn’t based on distraction, but interaction.  With my hubby.  With my kids.  With my immediate surroundings.  But most importantly, with myself.

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To be true to others, you must take the time to discover your own truths.  Until then, you do not live authentically.

My sons are amazed at my silence this summer.  I work on little things: cleaning closets, organizing paperwork, understanding finances.  I water gardens and clean yards.  I work on my own inner struggles and discontent to communicate them with my spouse as we journey this midlife path together and beyond.  I make time to interact with my ever growing sons who continue to seek their own spaces and discover who they are.

In the silence I am finally listening to the beat within that has always pushed me forward.  We all have our own rhythms and without all the noise, I can finally hear them once again.

I am trusting my body cues to tell me when I’m hungry, when I need activity.  I find myself yearning to be outdoors on predawn jogs and late evening swims.   There is no magic program or elixir to perfect health.   If everything is in balance (portion control vs. activity) it works out on its own.

I surrender control.    My successes, my failures.  My needs and my wants.   I used to think I could control these things and get riled up.  I have no control over these things and can choose to not let them control me.  I am learning to accept things as they are and walk the path that fits who I am.

To dwell on the things not dealt with.  The dramas that unfold in family, social groups and organizations. To laugh, to cry, to shout.  To find my inner introvert and look within; to reflect in solitary silence and figure out how to progress forward or if not, to let it go.

In the silence the words emerge, the inner writer finding solace in them.  I read books, once again, of far away places.   I unexpectedly found a novel that filled my desires to travel while still sitting still.  I escaped to Yellowstone, Yosemite, Zion and many places in-between and gained insight on the mental work I continually push through.  I don’t need to be on the move searching for answers to my queries.  In fact, I think I know them and finally made the time to actually sit and listen to them.  They have been with me all along and this summer, I don’t need to travel far to appreciate my destination.

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I am here sitting still.  I have already arrived.

 

 

 

Family, friendships

the words and silences that matter

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This morning, on my morning jog, the car making a right turn didn’t stop.  It hit me.

The angry words spewed from my mouth; my adrenaline spiked high.  What were you thinking?  Did you not see me?!!  (I was hard to miss in my white fleece jacket and bright pink cap.  I was within the crosswalk and just about to step on the opposite curb).

Sometimes it’s not the words you say, that matter.

One of the character traits I appreciate in a person is the ability to communicate honestly and openly.  I am a woman of words.  But lately I’ve come to realize the wisdom in the adage that some things are better left unsaid.

  • I stood at the office door; the opportunity opening to share my angst when the director asked how he could help me.  It was on the tip of my tongue.  It doesn’t matter whether it’s a social group of friends, co-workers or volunteer groups like PTA and booster organizations; drama and power struggles exist everywhere.  When the student stood behind me, I allowed him entry first.
  • When my dear friend shared the words that I was being thrown under the bus, in a social dynamic between two former bffs, the words came to mind, ready to deploy.   I am not afraid of confrontation and always advocate for transparency.  This would be a welcome conversation since I tire of those who don’t own their words, judge behind people’s backs and deflect on others.
  • I hear the family chatter about finances and wills; feelings of exclusion and rejection.  There are favorites and black sheep.  Long held resentments and actions that can never be undone.  After the headstone arrives and the financial obligations are met, doors come to a close.
  • I gaze at the hubs across the table, listening to him share newfound discoveries in web page design.   He explains the various statistical data from testing the time it takes to load a website, the process of upload speed and data transfer in programming language and military acronyms.

I sat across from the girlfriend I’ve known since aged seventeen for coffee.  I reside in my current suburb because of her.  She stood in my bridal party when I married my husband and held my hand with calming words to “push” with the birth of my youngest, my almost eleven-year old son and our middle children are in high school classes together.

I ate lunch with my bubbly girlfriend; the one who left her position to stand up for what was right.  She never received affirmation for her time and dedication and felt discouraged and alone.

Catching up with my girlfriends the common theme revealed itself in the scenarios we shared.  We walk similar paths.

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When parents get too involved in their children’s dynamics and live through their lives; drama enfolds and relationships are destroyed.  Parents who serve for PTAs, booster or religious organizations revert to the social capacities of their children’s ages…queen bees and wannabes.

There are always favorites and black sheep in family dynamics.  Our family members, whom we expect to be our biggest supporters, sometimes become our biggest liabilities.

At the heart of all of these things is that we just want to belong; to feel like we are needed.  To not be rejected.  To know that we have meaning in our lives and that we are loved and accepted for who we are.

Years ago when we moved from one duty station to another, I met various groups of women in military spouses’ clubs.  As an only child it was my first introduction to group dynamics, not of my choosing.  As our husbands deployed we relied upon one another for information, support and camaraderie in a new place.   When the commander’s wife pulled rank and caused drama for us, as well as our husbands, I had been rudely awakened to the subtleties of human nature.  There are always those who want to control everything and have the power; to prove their self-worth.

I learned the mistake in saying my words.  To speak the truth.  My husband got an earful on the aircraft carrier half a world away and for six months he endured.  It brought me no pleasure to share that when this commander came home, my words had rang true.  Years later, when the hubs ran into his former commander; he learned he was divorced and unhappy.  The commander genuinely had been happy to know that we were one of the few couples, that made it.

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One of my unfavorable traits is in using my words without sorting and filtering them.  My hotheaded, need-to-be right, type A personality allows my mouth to pick and shred; to defend without listening or thinking.  I am finding that it’s not always the truth that matters.  I shared this with the priest, in confession, and to my surprise, he readily agreed.  It was one of the best and honest conversations I have ever had as we talked of child molestation in the Catholic church, hypocrisy in people of faith, abortion/ right to life issues and rituals that are archaic and unrealistic.

We may not always agree in our points of view.  But we came to an understanding and respected the other’s stance and life choices.

That’s what matters.  The ability to empathize and connect.

  • I waved at the director when he peered past the student; trying to decipher what was bothering me.   I smiled and walked away.  I cannot push my need for transparency in the organizations I serve if others are not willing to see or hear it.
  • I thanked my dear girlfriend for sharing what was being said about me.  I have been blessed with her friendship as she’s undergone big transitions in her life and let the toxic words roll off my back.  I am grateful to finally realize which friends are true and which ones are not.
  • I keep my thoughts to myself regarding family matters; ready to share if ever asked.  I have not walked in their shoes and cannot place judgment on other people’s choices and actions.  This would not be how I choose to handle relationships but I must respect other perspectives and find my own way based on my personal relationship; not others’ points of view.
  • I affirm my husband.  Does he need to know that my to-do list runs in my head and that I have no idea what he is saying?  No. Not really. I am happy he has found his hobby in programming, once again, and nod in encouragement.

In teaching my sons to say their words, I also have to teach them how to filter and sort by modeling this on my own.  When the car cuts me off, the words that come off my lips aren’t ones I want my sons repeating.   They readily tell me so.

But every once-in-a-while you realize your kids hear them, the words that matter.  Each Friday, after school, my son and his four high school buddies converge on our home to hang out.  Later that evening, as I cleaned up the empty soda cans and mess, this son quietly approached and without preamble, murmured, “Thank you.”   I straightened as he walked away, too stunned to respond.

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When the words are sincere and genuine, their weight settles upon you, making the daily, mundane every day routines worth it. 

I had picked myself up, off the road, and continued on my jog; too angry to think.   The car stopped alongside the heavily traveled road and to my irritation, the driver stepped out.

Are you okay? she shakily had asked and immediately my questions snaked out.  How could you not have seen me?  You had a red light! 

It was then that I noticed the shaking.  The tears in her eyes.  Her windshield had been fogged up and she had been distracted and I saw the truth in her words.  The angry diatribe disappeared and instead, I gave her a hug as she shook like a leaf; a mother dressed for work, close-in-age, to myself.  After several more assurances to her frenzied questions and apologies, I let her vent her fear.  I silenced my words, hearing her,  and I eventually sent her on her way, urging her to drive safely.  I still needed to jog and get home to awaken my own household; to merrily send them on their way.

I was okay.

I continue to filter and sort and choose the words that have meaning and matter.  The peace wraps itself around me, like a warm, fuzzy blanket.

 

Family

the rests

My thoughts have been all over the place in this past month.  I had countless unpublished drafts as I sifted and sorted, processing the experiences in the month of March.  I am in a changing season.  Seemingly random thoughts imprinted on my brain and there was no making sense of it all.  Maybe, I thought, this is what pre-menopause is like?  I was scattered.

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I found myself crying in a park over spilled egg dye.  My days of mothering young sons came to a close as I sat for three hours on a sunny Saturday; mourning this.

I sat with a dear friend; wondering why the drugs were working against her body.  Weren’t they supposed to help her?   Her son needs her at home.

I simmered below the surface, as I observed people maneuver and work to manipulate their way with hidden agendas, wondering at their motivations.

I contemplated aging and mortality; things that always seemed to be in the distance as I struggle to come to terms with my changing physical capabilities.  When the bff shared the story of the dad falling out of the treehouse with no chance of ever walking again; I was reminded to not take life for granted.

I clenched teeth as I analyzed numbers; wondering how to leverage them.  I was lost in paperwork and more paperwork with taxes, both income and property, looming just around the corner.

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I had mistakenly thought life would become clearer as I aged.  And easier.  As a high schooler entering into college, my path had seemed clear and I followed it, like an excellent sheep.  And the further I went, the more I questioned. The hubs threw a wrench in the works; entering my life and unknowingly capturing my heart.  Soon the goals were career.  Then purchasing a home.  Starting a family.  Pet ownership.  It all fell into line.

The goals began to change and I transferred my desires onto my children.  I volunteered in various pursuits and sought validation.  But I am left with the same confused feeling.  Wasn’t life supposed to be clear by now?

Left with a bunch of unanswered questions, I retreated into myself.  At a recent concert festival I heard the adjudicator’s advice to the wind ensemble.  The students were so focused on the musical notes that they had not given the respect due to the silences in-between the notes; the rests.

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My own mind was stuck on discordant chords as I plowed ahead in my life’s musical score.  I was too busy playing notes and focusing on the next bar that I had ignored the moments of silence; the ones that give pause for reflection.  In giving these quiet moments the attention they were due; they would accentuate the dynamic moments in the music and enhance the lyrical composition.  My symphony was stuck on repeat.  I became complacent.  I was falling in line; as in William Deresiewicz’ book Excellent Sheep: The Miseducation of the American Elite and the Way to a Meaningful Life.

I had forgotten how to think for myself.

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I sought refuge in books; finally completing two of them, just because.  I sought beauty in unlikely places; hiking to a nearby park and sitting at a bench for three hours.  I watched young families stroll along the paths and the tears began anew.  I had cried over spilled egg dye because my sons had not wanted to color eggs on my timeline.  I was accustomed to setting our family schedule and my boys had wanted to color eggs.  But with thirty minutes notice they were unwilling to leave the glowing LCD screens of the den.  The hubs retorted they were busy and when I replied that they could color eggs without me; he had unceremoniously dumped the nine colors of dye down our sink.  I had spent nearly an hour boiling, cooling and preparing for this activity.  I had only requested a small amount of family time on our Easter weekend.  Quality time and acts of service are the two love languages, from Gary Chapman’s book, The Five Love Languages, that matter to me the most.

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Frustrated I had donned workout clothes and promptly trailblazed to my park of refuge.  I ignored the cell phone and sat in silence.  In my solitude the hard truth was that I had relied on my family to bring me happiness on my terms.  It was not fair for me to put that on them.

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I am responsible for my own happiness.

This letting go is hard; the acknowledging of a changing season.  I have been conditioned, as a mother, to find happiness in my children’s pursuits.  But it is not how they perform, look or what they will become that I should derive validation and worth.   No longer am I the director or composer.  I must affirm their desires and allow them opportunities to speak their own words.  I do not need to fill their silences with my own thoughts and sentences.  I must learn to accept their wishes and allow them to grow away.

I don’t want them to fall in line and that was exactly how I was parenting them.

I take a lot for granted.  I thought of my girlfriend who is away from her son; rehabilitating for her own health and the father who has lost the ability of mobility.  I watched the ducks waddle by as my husband’s words came to mind, like water off a duck’s back,  as I struggled with personal agendas in the organizations to which I serve.   I remembered the hobbies that brought me pleasure: reading, gardening, hiking and I sat in my uncomfortable silence.  As an only child I am accustomed to being left to my own devices and I knew that I had to take action, for myself.

I stared at the gazebo where a decade earlier, we had celebrated my middle son’s birthday.  In my solitude, I mourned the passage of time.  So many transitions have come and gone and I thought of the women in our bookclub.  They’ve endured separations and divorces, job losses, child losses and friendships forever changed.  There is no going back to those years but we must always put our best foot forward, to progress and learn from our mistakes.  I saw egg hunts of the past and fast forwarded to today.

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I took the time to acknowledge the rests.  I was done being stuck on repeat.  I had to discover how to find my own music once again; my composition had to be my own and no one else’s.  After three hours of mourning and soul searching I no longer could avoid the phone calls.  My sons voiced they wanted me to return home; to share lemonade from the multitude of lemons from their grandparents’ tree.  When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.

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The hubs dug out food coloring and allowed the boys to color eggs.  They took pictures of themselves so that I could see that they had not abandoned this idea.  And in these small things of the every day, they let me know that they still wanted to hear me.  They wouldn’t always agree with my words  but they took the time to process them and came to their own conclusions.  They were sorry they hurt my feelings and understood it was my version of family time.   We were learning the art of communicating simply and clearly.

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I continue to evolve.

The clarity is slow in coming and only on a hike did my divergent thoughts begin to coalesce.  The volunteer activities I chose to be involved in, the questions I have continued to ask myself, the books I have been reading, that appeared disjoint;  all lead to the same place.    These pursuits are rekindling the thirst for learning and knowledge.  I sought to grow and discover new things; just as I had as a young girl.  Most of my life I had focused on arriving to my destination in the fastest and most efficient way possible.  I have stepped outside of myself; re-engaging in the larger scope of life.

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As I hiked with my family the hubs reminded me to allow the boys to hike off-trail.  It’s what they enjoy the most in our outdoor adventures; the thrill of exploration.  It was also the same mental journey I was embarking upon.  With no timeline I sighed and let my expectations go.

I seek solace in quiet places of beauty.

I try not to wonder at other people’s motives and let their words and actions flow over me; like water off a duck’s back.

I work hard not to judge my appearance or performance on what I look like and what my body can do.

I seek meaningful relationships and connection with those who reciprocate with hospitality.

I continue to be a work in progress; to model behavior to my family instead of dictating what I expect or want.

But most importantly, I have embraced curiosity and inquisitiveness.  No longer do I feel frustrated that I don’t have answers to my incessant questions.  I push through my complacency and hope to blaze my path, unlike the sheep, to rediscover how to think outside of my box.

I may be poor in wealth but rich in health.

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I take the rests, as I need them.  To reflect.  To take a break.  To heal wounds.  To become stronger.  I am learning to successfully fail and to age well.  I leverage my life experiences to create a broader, dynamic symphony.

 

 

 

 

Family

finding beauty in my own backyard

I sat at the mosaic patio table from years past.

I remembered the day I had wheeled in the surprisingly heavy, wrought iron mosaic table and two chairs.  I wondered if the hubs would notice them when he returned home from work.  Placed beneath the large tree in our starter home, I imagined a garden growing.

The month was March and we had just settled in; the seed starter kits growing heartily.  In December 1998 we had just returned to our home state, after three years at various military installations in the Deep South.  In January, in our one room apartment, I had planted seeds in starter kits in anticipation of finally putting roots down.  We had looked, in earnest, to purchase our first home.

This patio table and chairs, from 1999, have moved with us for seventeen years.

Transplanted to the present, I looked at our backyard; the weeds overtaking everything and the lack of care evident.  Years ago I couldn’t wait to start a garden; to plant myself somewhere permanent after years of moving every six to nine months.   I grabbed my cell and snapped the shot.

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Where had I gone wrong?

There was no beauty.  Our backyard was neglected.  It brought me to the realization that I had found my self-worth in unimportant things, neglecting the one place that is supposed to be my sanctuary; my source of renewal and inspiration. Home.  Most days I see the cracked tile and mirror; the dusty curtains and blinds.  The clutter began to overtake my bedroom, the clothes shoved into drawers of dressers that would not close.  Every few months I de-clutter to make room, but I had never set foot in our backyard; overwhelmed within the four walls of my home.

It was time to engage; to live the life I have because it is limited and I’ve become complacent in it.   My in-laws, visiting at work, stated that our kids were our hobbies.  We didn’t have time for anything or anyone else.

My pursuits have been invested in my children but I have forgotten to invest in myself.

I sat in the sun with my coffee, remembering the gardens of years past and the very first day I sat on this patio set.  We had planted our seeds, transplanted flowers and grew vegetable gardens.  Many days I would spread a blanket out on the grass, my first son in my arms, pointing at clouds in the sky.  The ears of corn would occasionally block my vision, and I happily would photograph the progress of our garden to my husband, half-a-world away.  I journalled the growth of the plants in the five month growing season, with my young son alongside;  the small green seedlings soon towering over his infant body.

I looked up at the sky, once again.  The gardener within was awakening.

I detour160302 pillowed into the home improvement store that is next door to the wholesale warehouse of all goods imaginable.   I gazed at patio sets, globe garden lights and brightly colored patio decor.  The pillow caught my eye and I imagined it in my bedroom amidst the rich hues of burgundy aka Dutch Boy’s Hawaiian cinder.  Thirty minutes later, cushion in-hand, I squinted in the afternoon light and walked back to my car.

For two days I pulled weeds from the ground; the exertion relieving the stress and demands life always brings.  The insidious weeds completely filled my green waste trash container and the slate was clear; ready to be planted anew.

I’m feeling the pull of spring; to move forward.  To progress.

I envisioned dewy flowers and vegetables; gently swaying in the early rays of the morning.  I sneezed as I shoveled weeds taller than my 5 ft. and 3/4 in. frame; the prickly stalks causing me to itch. I leaned heavily upon the hoe; my knees tweaking in protest.  Amidst my discomfort in the waning sun and elongated shadows of dusk, I appreciated the stark beauty in open and empty spaces; ripe for new endeavors and growth.  Uncrowded by weeds I could plant myself firmly to the moment, breathing deeply.  I found my place within my own space once again.

I pondered the thoughts of my in-laws, thinking of my own childhood.   What was wrong with investing time in parenting?  My own parents were uninvolved in my extra-curriculars but allowed me to pursue them.  They had been proud of my accomplishments.  Recently I found myself explaining to a dear friend, WHY, I had always known I would be an involved parent when I had children of my own.   This had been a surprise to my friends and family; that I had changed my path from career to motherhood.    I had naively stated, to my boss, that I would be back four weeks after delivery and had lined-up daycare for my soon-to-be infant son.  It was all planned out.

It had been hard to return to the dream job I held at the time of my eldest’s birth; the co-workers like sisters.  After various job transitions and moves, I had planted myself in a job that utilized my life experience, education and strengths.   I had it all!

Three months later, after learning of another impending deployment for my hubs, I left this position and began my auspicious beginning into motherhood.  There was no manual and I ravenously read parenting books to teach me anything I could glean; joining Mommy and Me classes at the local hospital for guidance.  My own mother had begun to show symptoms of decline.  It would only be three years later, upon her death from other causes, that she would officially be diagnosed with Alzheimer’s; the field of study I had pursued.

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My sons usurped all of my time and, to my surprise and guilt, I enjoyed it.  As I planted gardens I realized I was also growing children; my newfound pursuit.  It would be my job to feed their bodies, water them with faith and try to be the sun in their worlds; providing warmth and love.  I would weed out the unsavory things and carry the spade; protective of my seedlings and ready to extricate anything obstructing their growth .  I had spent many hours sitting at the mosaic patio table watching my seedlings grow.

In this season of life my sons are as tall as the corn stalks; two of them towering over me and the third rapidly catching up.  In the busyness of life I stopped tilling the soil and had no time to put in a garden.  But the trees we had planted six years ago continue to grow; even through a statewide drought.  I do not water them yet they still bear fruit; hopeful that my sons are like these trees.  As they grow  older there is less physical labor and more mental work.  The weeds are ever present and I’ve not done my due diligence in keeping the field open and fertile.  Instead, I’ve allowed it to crowd my time and space.  Renewal and inspiration cannot grow here.

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To be the sun for my sons I am learning to sacrifice time; to take care of myself so that I can be a better mother to these boys.

The smell of chlorine fills my nostrils as the pool water clears. The cluttered plastic chairs are stacked and put away.  The empty space beckons.

 

 

 

friendships

exile and empty gauntlets

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It’s in the month of June when I try to go off-the-radar into self-imposed exile.

It’s in the month of August that I look back and think of all the things and projects I had hoped, in the summer downtime, that I would get done.   Decluttering office files into banker boxes at work and home, organizing kids’ drawers into piles to give away.  Staring at office space filled with junk to be transformed into workable space. Extra pounds upon my waistline from too many family poolside BBQs and campfire s’mores.  I spent a lot of time procrastinating until I reached the critical point where I had to do something; panic mode in full swing.

It can wait until later I told myself, citing that I wanted to spend quality time relaxing during the summer months; Kindle opened in-hand.

I’ll clean house next week so that I spent “quality time” with my sons; avoiding my four walls and being outdoors so I didn’t feel the guilt by looking at them.

Why cook? I questioned the hubs as I dragged him to float in the pool after long, hot days of manufacturing bolts at work.

I walked in early mornings; convincing myself that I am maintaining.   The hubs made me step on our new scale to recalibrate it.  I rarely step on scales.  But do weigh scales lie?

The bills and files piled high upon the desks; in view, to remind me to pay them.  Calgon take me away.

My bad mood permeated my Sunday; exacerbated by my guilt of procrastination.  My summer exile had me disengage from everything.  This has been a recent development after people began to disappoint and life became too absorbed doing things for others that didn’t fill my cup.  Usually an optimist seeing my cup as half-full, I began to only feel the emptiness.   And so I went into exile in my tiny bubble.  I sat still allowing myself the time to absorb the bitter pill; taking stock of the things in my life that I needed to re-evaluate.   To forgive.  To let things go.  The hubs, flummoxed by my dour face, finally asked what was wrong with me; to which I replied, I think I don’t like people.   A strong statement from my extrovert self.

I grabbed the cup and swallowed with lots of water; trying to flush away the bitterness in my mouth.  I float away all thoughts, on top of it, in eves in the pool; continuing to empty my cup and drink from the well that never satisfies.  I’m throwing down the gauntlet.  The random but timely email from my childhood girlfriend, a teacher,  says it exactly. 

I’m going back to the dark side…the Ultra Responsible Adult life…gotta run!!

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Reality check.  It’s time to return, to do something about it.  The hubs’ words stung but always ring true.  I appreciated his transparency and concern.  The priest sermoned about eating and drinking from the cup, to taste and see the goodness of the Lord.  Amidst the applause of the congregation my mind rallied, I’m really working on it Lord, trust me…I’m trying.  Right now I’m not feeling it.

I’ve always imagined that clarity comes in beautiful, quiet settings.  But I have experienced many of those things, this summer, and its soothing balms temporarily worked until my return to the every day.  I used music and books to escape the thoughts that churned in my mind; holding me captive.  I physically moved through each morning and night; the routines and ritual comfortable and mundane.   And I’ve revisited the past full circle; returning to the present with childhood and current friends and family alongside.   I must change my mindset.  To remember and believe that people are GOOD.  I am my own worst enemy.

After a year of laying low I am ready to return to the land of the living; to expect good in others instead of questioning motives.   The serene setting happened to be a noisy and packed high school MPR.  Parents worked alongside, fitting uniforms on 239 members of my son’s high school marching band.  After years of parent involvement in my sons’ elementary school I had no intention of serving in other organizations that usurped my time away from our business and family.   I worked alongside the mom who dragged me into the fray; the extra hands needed in an organization so large.  Hours were spent snapping buttons and fitting lengths and when the water was offered, I drank it and felt refreshed.

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I’ve always known that it is in service where my true love lies; my only way to contribute is with time.  It was only when my vision was clouded with thoughts of impressing others or self-affirmation; selfish things, that prevented me from seeing the reasons to why I served.  It used to be that I wanted to be away from the walls of my home, to seek others’ approval; unhappy in transitioning in life on many levels.  My summer of exile only delayed the inevitable.  I’ve realized that I must reside amongst people.  To interact with them.  To immerse myself and navigate amongst them.

It is in relationships that life is lived. 

In twenty-six years of business we know our customers and understand their custom and unique needs.  It is why they remain loyal as our outreach extends beyond our four walls to places beyond where we could have ever imagined.  In a world where price drives markets, customer loyalty is built with relationships.  And so it goes with friendships.  In a world where acquaintances may come and go, transparency and authenticity strengthens the ties that bind.  History is the random variable that can sometimes cloud perspective.  Just because you’ve known someone for a long time doesn’t mean that person is a good friend; the one that continually sips from your cup but doesn’t pour anything back into it.

This month I was forced out of exile; to find my way amongst people once again.

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The one-year old baby was proof of the passage of time.  The last time I had seen my two childhood girlfriends, whom I’ve known since aged nine and eleven, together was at the latter one’s baby shower.  She connected me to the present; the endless hours listening to music and playing on piano keyboards to one of our fave bands at the time, Depeche Mode.  She is the one who remains friends with those from the past; the keeper of knowledge via Facebook.  It is with this same band that, years later, the bff and I were separated in a throng of people and through sheer luck found one another.  And I later attended their concert with the girlfriend from age nine, the bff and the girlfriend I’ve known since aged four.  History.  It is overwhelming.  I am thankful these women have, over the decades, remained and continue to walk milestones with me.

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The traveling girlfriend returned and spontaneously was in my area; months of words unspoken exchanged from our lips.  I sat with my “queens” watching Magic Mike XXL; the hoots of laughter shared in a crowded theater, full.    The early morning walks continue to maintain as better food choices and portion sizes are assessed before annual check-ups.  I rediscover the treadmill purchased over Christmas and decided to step on the scale only on Mondays.

The hubs and I fight for counter space as we plan meals for teens and the ten-year old; providing healthy, non-processed foods to fill their tummies.  Organization returns as the piles of bills are alphabetized and ready to be filed; the next thing on my to-do list.  The empty office space now looms with possibilities.  The stuffed closets and drawers filled garbage bags to donate to our booster organization; raising money for our high school band program.  My girlfriend concocts homemade cocktails and I sit by the backyard fire.

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The drinks keep coming, brimming full.  I take my portion and fill my cup.

Family

check-in-the box (Part I)

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I had a hard time wrapping my head around it.  Camping without running water or facilities?  In a remote location in the mountains without other people for miles?  I am no Cheryl Strayed; who chose to walk the Pacific Crest Trail solo for long stretches of time.

Mandatory camping.

I dragged my feet hoping it would go away.  Normally I enjoy travel and sightseeing; especially long road trips.  As Memorial Day nears, each year,  I itch to see the center lines blur on worn highways; headed to places near and far.  I am thankful my family of five endure my excursions, my need to explore.  Most people assume our trips are my husband’s idea.  But it is usually I that chooses the location and works out the logistics.  July 2016 is already booked.

This time it was out-of-my hands.

My father-in-law (FIL) has always had the prospector mentality within, since his early twenties.  When my husband and his sister were young, their family of four went on month long vacations into the wilderness with a trailer purchased in 1974 to pan for gold.  The years flew by as work and life took precedence.  But it has always been my FIL’s desire to live “off grid” and mine for gold.  In retirement he chose to demolish and upgrade their trailer from years past.  Late last fall he arrived at our family business with a deed in-hand.  He was the official owner of a mining claim.

We knew it was coming, the hubs and his sister, as winter turned to spring.  It was my FIL’s desire to camp in the wilderness for a family vacation.  It is back-breaking work and manual labor; to mine for gold. Our nephew took his turn in aiding his grandparents in late spring.   This time it was ours.  We met at our rendezvous point ten hours away from our homes.  And then we followed the trailer as it slowly ascended into the mountains.  The rear tire of the trailer was punctured as the FIL navigated his way down towards the creek.  The guys pushed boulders out of the dirt road’s path and used chainsaws to clear tree branches.  How are they going to get out of here?

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Upon arrival the hubs carried away the portable toilet.  My in-laws graciously allowed me access to their trailer bathroom but the boys enjoyed being in the great outdoors; particularly the hubs.  It was a beautiful setting and very remote.   What better place to commune with our natural environment?  I shuddered as I snapped the shot.  The Repel spray with 40% DEET was a prized commodity and the parfum of choice to ward away the mosquitoes.

The idea was to get away.  To unplug.  To do.  N.O.T.H.I.N.G.

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It all sounds good, the idea of disappearing into the wilderness and letting nature have its way.   Our sons tried not to look bored and I quickly realized that most of our camping excursions are in national or state parks with many scenic hiking trails and famous landmarks.  Our site consisted of a small creek with lots of trees.  It took five minutes, each way, for our sons to explore the creek banks.   They truly had nothing to do.  The teenagers disappeared into tents, instead; to sleep in the middle of the day.   The FIL and hubs worked  on repairing the punctured tire.  They chopped wood for our fire with chainsaws and axes.  They carried equipment down to the creek bed: winches, chains, shovels, buckets, the Keene dredge, sluice box, motor and various filters.   When Grandma suggested the boys explore the culvert (large drainage pipe) I sent them off with my camera.  They quickly returned and told me to come with them.  With hand-held CBs, off we went to explore the larger pool beyond.

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It was as I stood on a rock in the pond beyond the culvert, with a shivering dog, that my mind finally accepted where I was.  The teens explored along the banks and I gazed at the trees overhead.  I could continue to be an observer of my surroundings or I could consciously choose to be a participant in the untamed natural beauty around me.  I watched the clear water turn cloudy with ochre dust; the sounds of mining from upstream mixing gravel and silt.  I needed to embrace it.

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My mind cleared as the water clouded; just as it did when I recently participated in a mud run.  I laughed out loud and the boys looked at me questioningly.  Has Mom finally lost her mind?  My bodily-kinesthetic/ADD tendencies make it hard for me to do nothing.  Shivering in the cold water I knew what I was going to do.

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I, too, would learn to mine for gold and burn calories during the process.

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Eventually all the boys joined their Dad and Grandfather over the next few days.  They shoveled, they dumped and sorted rocks.  They carried buckets and placed shovels full of gravel and sand into the dredge.  It was a lot of physical work and, surprisingly, we weren’t bothered by it.  At the end of our four days I was sad to leave my in-laws; who remain for another week.  We departed from their gold mining site on their 49th wedding anniversary.  The punctured tire was fixed and on the trailer with enough patches to get them back to a town, thirty miles away.

The manual labor in the cold water actually brought warmth to my core.  But most importantly, it brought warmth to a more vital place: the heart.  It was a gift, for the only child with deceased parents, to see the ties that bind continue to strengthen amongst three generations of males.  Would any of my boys or hubs choose to do this on their own?  No. Probably not.

It was a labor of love; the most important lesson of life.  More priceless than the elusive gold.

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I place a check-in-the-box.

Family

cleaning house

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I took apart the 1000 piece puzzle that sat on my living room coffee table for the past six months.

It took weeks to put the puzzle together, in early January,  with the help of the members of my household.  Obsessively I would sit in the mornings finding similar colored pieces and patterns in the hopes of finding a piece to fit in the gaping holes.    An hour would pass me by as I studied them again and again hoping to fill things in.

The puzzle came to symbolize my life.  I yearned to piece it together, to fill in the gaps and make sense of it all.  I looked for patterns and straight edges to create my four borders and sorted similar colors together to see how they fit.   Every piece had its place.

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I used to spend a lot of my time scrutinizing individual pieces; wondering where they would go?   When it came down to the last few I couldn’t fathom what was missing or how they fit in. Where did these come from? 

But after stepping way and changing my point of view, the pieces finally fit in ways I had never considered.  Sometimes life has a way of doing this to us; throwing us for a loop where we begin to wonder why am I here?  What is my purpose?  How do I fit in?  I had lost sight of the big picture and was centered on individual pieces; insignificant things that really are placeholders or bridges to connect dissimilar ideas or people.

For years I rejected individual pieces of my life that didn’t seem to belong.  But I’ve realized all things have a place and meaning; the building blocks for the picture I am creating and constantly changing.  I ponder the framed masterpiece my kids will see in the end; post mortem.  I imagine my obituary slideshow with my music playlist in the funeral parlor.  I don’t wish for my kids to be maudlin and sad, I want them to celebrate the life we shared; to remember.

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This is why I snap pictures and scrapbook.  I long for my kids to see their stories, to read them when I no longer am here to remind them.  The albums my mother created may have mold but they are my prized possessions.  When we emptied her home the furniture, household goods and clothes were given away; the trophies and accolades of my childhood thrown in trash bins.  They had collected dust like neglected art in a mausoleum.  Only the framed photographs, albums and fine china remained in my possession.  They fit in four boxes, two of them still in my garage storage.  The china displays in my dining room; used when I entertain large groups of people.  My mother was known for her hospitality and it is this that I inherited from her.

Yesterday summer finally arrived in my household as I broke apart my puzzle and mixed the pieces up in its box.  I hesitated as I dismantled a small corner; thinking I could still put it back together again.  It took me fifteen minutes to dislodge one thousand pieces and when I placed the cover on the box and shook it for good measure, it was done.

My school year schedules and busy weekends concluded this past weekend with the fourth of July.  My volunteer commitments are on hiatus for the next few weeks.  I do not come home from work to place another hat upon my head.  These long, hot, days of summer, are now my own.  My slate is clean.

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Gone are the summers with planned excursions, academic workbooks or summer camp commitments.  This year is different.

I am allowing us time in our nothing box to relax and find spontaneity in the little things.

I began to clean house and without prompting, my three sons looked at the calendar to do their assigned chores.  Five hours of work were accomplished in one; the five occupants contributing their fair share.  Slowly our house repairs are being fixed; piece by excruciating piece.  My patience has waned thin on this home front but Rome wasn’t build in a day.  Our house is our living masterpiece; the puzzle that continues to need maintenance.  My floor is jagged and needs to be filled in.  But I must build one piece at a time, day-by-day, year-after-year.  In the grand scheme of life, my floor is a minor detail.  If the picture of my home is taken; it is the occupants in the home that matter,  The floor is unseen.

  • I continually learn to accept the pieces of my life; the good and the bad.
  • I consistently work to dismantle the clutter; filing and storing things for access.
  • I actively create open space to make room for new things.

The busywork is done and summer has arrived.  My house is clean.

Family

nine lives

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I sometimes feel like I’ve lived various lives; ones that are incongruous with the life I currently live.

Maybe this is why cats are my preferred pets.  They are fairly independent and quieter companions.  I like their curiosity and ability to have nine lives.  They always land on their feet.

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I had the thought above as I leapt from a wall into a mud pool.  Sometimes it’s easier for me to not see the bottom; to not know what lies ahead.  As I’ve grown older my curiosity and willingness to take risks has greatly reduced.  Some people call it wisdom.  Part of me thinks it came with motherhood and the ability to put someone else before myself.  And a lot of it is just fear of the unknown.  I have a mental block.

When my girlfriend first pitched the idea to do a mud run I laughed out loud.  She can’t be serious, I thought to myself.  Do I look like I could do a mud run?  But my mind quickly squashed that thought.  Why not?  I work on de-cluttering my life of excuses and things that hold me back.  I can’t do this,  I can’t do that…   When the third girlfriend begrudgingly acquiesced to this challenge we plowed ahead and registered.  And then we promptly chose to forget about it; to think about it on another day.

My father-in-law has a saying that he often shares with our boys and I.

CAN’T never did anything.  You CAN.

I had stood in the throng of participants waiting for the horn to signal the beginning of our run.  Online I gave a percursory glance at our course map and tried not to think of what lay ahead.  I blocked out the fear I have; one that I hoped I wouldn’t have to encounter on the obstacle course.

I have a fear of heights.

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I told myself I had the option to bypass any of the stations that were out of my comfort zone and stood in line at the climbing station that resembled the ropes and netting found on kids’ playgrounds.  With my girlfriends I climbed behind them; not looking down.  When the mud pit wall presented itself they questioningly looked to see if I would opt to skip it.  I knew I had found my second wind when I heard myself yell back to them.  Let’s do it!  And without a second thought I used the marine’s offer to push me up and looked to the murky pool on the other side; straddling the high wall.  Off I leapt.  As I swam through mud I knew;  I would be okay.  My competitive spirit took over and off we went to our next obstacle. Who knew mud would be the reagent to cleanse my mind?

Because in the murky, mucky waters of life you can choose to struggle in it, avoid/opt out of it,  or swim on top of it.  I choose to swim.

As a nine year old I had not been a strong swimmer.  But over the course of my life I have observed and watched others in community pools; knowing I would have to learn.  I was afraid of the deep end but worked hard to conquer my fears as I struggled to stay afloat and dog-paddled.  I watched my friends leap from rocks and diving boards; my fear of heights and depths taking hold of me.  When my firstborn was two months old I joined a YMCA Mommy and Me class.  I told myself it was to teach my son to not be afraid of the water.  But really, it was for me to conquer my own fears.  And years later this same son would save his father’s life at the bottom of my husband’s childhood pool; pushing him up to the surface.

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When my boys took swim classes, and eventually joined a competitive swim team, I actively listened to the instructor’s words.  It was my sons, and husband, who taught me the proper way to swim.  The two strokes hardest for me to learn were the butterfly and, particularly, the breast stroke.   I am still challenged by the butterfly but I have conquered the breast stroke and it is my favorite.  I bobbed alongside the marine in the mud; breast-stroking and chatting about his choice of a spa exfoliation treatment as he back-crawled to my pace.  The race wasn’t really about testing my fitness mettle.  I chose to physically go outside of my boundaries, my multiple intelligences modality being bodily-kinesthetic, to work through my mental ones.

I’ve been mentally stuck for the past few years; not being able to see the forest for the trees.  But my perspective continues to focus on the things that are important and in this season of my life; they move within my space with me.  I always looked elsewhere, never appreciating what lay within my four walls.  I took them for granted.

I stared out at the airfield, as the shuttle returned us to our vehicles, after the race.  The deja vu feeling washed over me; one I had just experienced two weekends before at my parents’ graves in the small coastal town I grew up in.  For sixteen years airfields and military installations had been our home.  The tears welled in my eyes; the deployments and lonely days with young boys remembered and  I smiled at the memory of the homecomings.  I hadn’t known I needed closure of that time in my life and it arrived on an old school bus as we rattled into our parking area.  Caught off-guard I mentally filed this part of my nine lives, letting it go.

Much later when I arrived home the cat had been at the door to greet me as our canine’s squeals announced my arrival.  The other four occupants of my home were in other places and so I quickly changed and headed outside; sitting alone in a warming jacuzzi.  One-by-one they left what they were doing, without any prompting, and sat with me.  Heat and spa jets on I sat quietly, absorbing it all, hoping my mind captured it to memory.  These past few years I’ve been fighting the currents of where I wanted my life to take me.  No longer do I tread water or feel pulled under.  I live this life, my mind clearing, with the four lives that matter.

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Uncategorized

time in service

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I spend money on things for others; but I am spent.

service1a :  the occupation or function of serving <in active service> b employment as a servant <entered his service
2a :  the work performed by one that serves <good service> b help, use, benefit <glad to be of service c :  contribution to the welfare of others d :  disposal for use <I’m entirely at your service>
3a :  a form followed in worship or in a religious ceremony <the burial service> b :  a meeting for worship —often used in plural <held evening services>

4 the act of serving: as  a a helpful act <did him a service> b :  useful labor that does not produce a tangible commodity —usually used in plural <charge for professional services>”  Merriam Webster Online, Merriam Webster, n.d. Web. 14 Dec. 2014.

During this time of year I find myself searching YouTube for the song, “Last Christmas” by Wham!  The panoramic snowy views featured in the video immediately deliver wintry cheer.  But the sidebar beckons and I find myself clicking the link to the song above; which has remained on repeat the whole month of December for the third year in a row.   My mind sees the Wham! cassette tape constantly being replayed on my Sony Walkman.  The device eventually ate this tape because I frequently pushed the rewind button for this particular song.    I had coveted leg warmers, red hi-top Converse sneakers and Guess overall jeans at the time.  I never got any of those things.

On Sunday  I closed my bedroom doors and locked them; effectively shutting out my family.  I kept this song on repeat for two hours. I was frustrated over a cup of coffee and a Santa picture.   My anger, simmering below the surface for half of this year,  clawed its way out.

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It wasn’t really about the hubs grumbling about my desire for a Nordstrom’s cafe almond latte coffee.  Nor was it about the spontaneous idea to stand  in line with my three sons; who were over a decade older than the other children waiting for Santa (which we did not do).  It is about being disappointed in life and people.  My family is bearing the brunt of my wrath.

For the aging priest diagnosed with liver cancer who, along with his religious order, will no longer be serving our parish after December 31.

At the staff who turned their backs at my request for a family who has served the school for almost seven years.

To the parents who find fault with those who volunteer in booster organizations and PTA  who serve for everyone’s children; not just their own.

For the salesman and family friend who is tired of filling someone’s coffers at the expense of his integrity.

The frustration of crumbling walls, leaky plumbing and cracked tile in a sixty-four degree house.

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I hope that my husband does not think that everything I want is centered around material things.   He is well aware of the love language that defines me, from Gary Chapman’s book The Five Love Languages.   It is not words of affirmation, receiving gifts, quality time or physical touch that make me feel loved.   When my children open doors or do their laundry, when my husband mops floors and creates dinners, when someone does something kind, just because.

It is in acts of service that I find value; ones that come from the heart with nothing expected in return.

I have lost my love language; my desire to serve.   For the past six months I’ve embarked on a mental journey of organization; clearing out junk to find what’s important.    I sorted through my reactions and actions this past weekend; comprehension slow in coming.

I sat during the service, focused on our parochial vicar recently diagnosed with liver cancer.  Priests are an ailing breed;  the numbers greatly diminished of men who choose this vocational path.  Wasn’t there anyone out there to help him?   Their religious order no longer has priests to serve our parish.

Whilst typing an email response to a question, I found myself adding an FYI.  I could finally give voice to my bitter disappointment; to the assistant principal of the elementary school that used to be my second home.

I listened to our family friend, a seasoned salesman, consider options.  At what cost do we serve others before ourselves?  Parents sobbed around me at a parent meeting and I seethed.  Why is that those who serve humbly feel used and spat-out with a bitter taste in their mouths?  Was it worth it?

I see the full glass rapidly spilling over.   I need to know that serving has value.  Because in my life; this is the gift that I can freely give.  Service.

We know what it means to serve.

 The USAA (United States Automobile Association) slogan, we know what it means to serve, scrolled across my computer screen as I perused our home insurance policy.   USAA began with a group of army officers who couldn’t insure their vehicles and decided to create their own company.   Military service members live the sacrifice of service.  They willingly place their lives in danger to serve our country.  My husband served sixteen years of active duty and my eldest son considers following in his footsteps.  But the mother in me screams, no!  The residing cynic wants to say it’s not worth it.   I am selfish.  I want him to live.

Because we can maximize our wealth and our health but in the commodities of life; the coffers I want to fill are the memories in my mind and heart.  I have to invest my time in serving those who bring meaning to my life.   The people that remain on my Christmas and obituary mailing lists who accept the flawed me; just as I am.  The ones whose time spent in their company share the highs and lows that change with the season.   The ones whom you can pick up a conversation when you don’t see them on a day-to-day basis; as if they were always there.

I heard the girls in the loud, busy restaurant as we shared ideas of what they were getting their kids for Christmas.  The consensus: an experience.  Instead of presents, be present and do something together.  Day trips.  Unique outings.  The gift is in the giving; the investment of time.  I can easily spend money but if my spirit is spent and not receiving joy, why spend?

The bff texted and called me out.  She had placed me on her naughty list because the Christmas card I had sent was not as simple as it seemed.  There are things worth spending dollars on; big or small.  The hubs lamented the plumbing bill after six hours of labor was spent fixing leaky pipes.  But I willingly invest money and time for a needed or worthy cause.  This morning as I handed a gift of appreciation to the mom who carpools my three sons, from three different schools, I felt joy.  It was heartfelt; my gratitude for her selfless offer to drive loops around our community to safely deliver my boys.    On Monday, after receiving the naughty list text, I summoned the hubs into the office to snap the picture of the shirt I was wearing that day.  The laugh escaped unbidden.  Small joys. When I open the mail to another Christmas card portrait I have to smile.  These greeting card tidings are one of my favorite things about the holiday season.

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I cleared my schedules thinking it would bring me peace but this is not the case.  There is no joy in building up walls and closing doors.  The joy is in having something to offer; to contribute time to causes and people.  It’s taken me all this time to realize that the panacea for an angry and bitter heart is not to try to fill its ache with food, stuff or white noise.  The healing comes in filtering, sorting and giving things away.

I invest more time in soul searching.

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I continue to let go of hoarding hateful things and struggle to find my gift; to give without strings.