manner

manner

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

a better butter spreader

yesterday Cora came home to report that a classmate's mom had come to teach the class about birds. "she's an ornithologist," Cora informed us. after sharing all the details of the lesson Cora asked if I could come and teach her class. "what would you like me to teach?" I asked my inspired kindergartener. "you could show everyone how to spread butter!" was her enthusiastic reply.

it's true, I am an excellent butter spreader. my best friend is convinced that all people have a secret, under appreciated talent just waiting to be exploited. mine is butter spreading. at mealtimes there is a row of bread beside my plate as everyone waits their turn for me to butter for them, not too thick, without tearing the bread, even when the butter is too cold to spread itself nicely. it is nice to be appreciated.

it took a little reflection to not be stung by cora's assessment of my contribution potential in her class. I am not an ornithologist. there is no fancy title for the work I do. I don't really have a skill set that lends itself to lessons in a preschool classroom. and my day to day work probably isn't super noticeable to a six year old. I've been thinking a lot lately if I am on track or off track. I don't really have a career at this point. I'm hardly writing at all. I haven't gone back to school for that masters degree. 

but I keep getting the feeling that my work is broader than I give myself credit for. I was telling a friend the other day that it is easy to feel like having kids has pulled me away from what I've always thought was my calling. I'm not working in foster care or with teenagers these days. but I have a sense of this overarching commitment to hospitality and I'm doing that every day. giving tourists directions in the bakery, hosting epic potlucks at our house, inviting camp friends to come and stay, buttering bread for the masses. I don't know how to present that in a classroom, but I think this work is good and meaningful.

it is easy for me to get bogged down and feel the sting of all the sacrifice required to live this intentional life. having kids means less free time and less pocket money. living in the woods means crummy cell service and long drives to town. eating well takes time and effort and forethought. a balanced marriage means giving up time alone to make time to be connected. all those things are worth it, even taking the sacrifice part into account. my word for 2016 is wide. I just have to step backwards to see the wider view, the bigger calling, the overarching goal. and through that wide lens I see value in butter spreading.

as my final reassurance I would just like to point out that after Cora suggested that Eric come and talk to her class about plants, she giggled and said "or you could teach us about pooting. your really good at that, papa." victory in butter spreading, my friends. at least my hidden talent isn't pooting.

Saturday, March 26, 2016

study war no more

I can't talk about brussels. I can't talk about paris. I can't talk about anything involving the word terror, terrorist, or terrorism. no school shootings. no biological warfare. my heart just can't take it.

I just keep singing to myself one of my my favorite camp songs because singing camp songs is what I do when I can't figure out what to do. camp songs or songs from musicals, but desperate times call for the campiest of camp, the oldiest and goodiest of them all.





(ps-have you seen these "playing for change" videos? every single one is awesome. I cry every time I watch one. big surprise, I know.)

I like to think there is no study of war here in my sweet little mountain town, that because we don't have subways or tall buildings we are protected and preserved. I like to think turning off the news on the radio is enough not to study war no more. I like to think that it is enough to be grateful that it wasn't me, wasn't mine, wasn't here, wasn't close. I want to shake my head sadly and move on with my day. it is tricky balance, life in this world. I can't unknow. I can't not feel. but I also don't want to live scared or small.


here is what I know: I don't want to study war no more. I don't want to talk about it, I don't want to glorify it, I don't want it to be part of who I am and what I do. that looks like lots of different things to lots of different people, I know. but for me it means laying down my sword (my sharp tongue, my quick to anger, my need to be right at all costs). but it also means laying down my shield, all the ways I try to defend and protect what I want to hold close. maybe for right now that means not listening to the news or getting caught up in all the "terror" so prevalent in the mainstream. it means being more vulnerable perhaps, but it also means living a lighter life, without lugging around all the ways I am convinced I need to work to keep myself and all I love safe. I'm gonna lay down my sword AND shield.


how do we fight the good fight? how do we keep on charging the enemy so long as there is life? sometimes it feels like our world is exploding just like spring is exploding here. my heart is exploding, too, but I want that explosion to look like the study of things far more beautiful than the study of war. I have gardens to grow, children to laugh with, friends to hug, stories to tell, rivers to swim, mountains to climb, seeds of peace to spread, lives to live. I can't be bothered to study war no more.



In one way we think a great deal too much of the atomic bomb. "How are we to live in an atomic age?" I am tempted to reply: "Why, as you would have lived in the sixteenth century when the plague visited London almost every year, or as you would have lived in a Viking age when raiders from Scandinavia might land and cut your throat any night; or indeed, as you are already living in an age of cancer, an age of syphilis, an age of paralysis, an age of air raids, an age of railway accidents, an age of motor accidents."
In other words, do not let us begin by exaggerating the novelty of our situation. Believe me, dear sir or madam, you and all whom you love were already sentenced to death before the atomic bomb was invented: and quite a high percentage of us were going to die in unpleasant ways. We had, indeed, one very great advantage over our ancestors - anaesthetics; but we have that still. It is perfectly ridiculous to go about whimpering and drawing long faces because the scientists have added one more chance of painful and premature death to a world which already bristled with such chances and in which death itself was not a chance at all, but a certainty.
This is the first point to be made: and the first action to be taken is to pull ourselves together. If we are all going to be destroyed by an atomic bomb, let that bomb when it comes find us doing sensible and human things - praying, working, teaching, reading, listening to music, bathing the children, playing tennis, chatting to our friends over a pint and a game of darts - not huddled together like frightened sheep and thinking about bombs. They may break our bodies (a microbe can do that) but they need not dominate our minds.
~cs lewis 

"If this life is to be so painful and short and so stunning and expansive, maybe I ought to do this differently." yes. and maybe differently isn't so far off from what we already know to do: love each other. live a little lighter. say yes. hug more often. eat vegetables and play outside. dance hard to music in the car.  be kind. even to ourselves. even to each other. even on grumpy days. listen better. talk less. hold hands. sing and sing and sing. and if you don't know the words, I'm happy to teach you all the camp songs I know.

Friday, March 4, 2016

eat vegetables and play outside

I went away last weekend and when I got in the car with my family who had come to pick me up I asked jamin what he did all weekend. "mostly just eat vegetables and play outside." I love this response and I am trying to make it the answer to as many of life's questions as possible. how can I feel fulfilled and learn my true calling? mostly just eat vegetables and play outside. how can I help to combat climate change? mostly just eat vegetables and play outside. how should I raise my children to be the best humans they can be? mostly just eat vegetables and play outside. what would jesus do? mostly just eat vegetables and play outside.


that's really all the quippy, bloggy take on life I have these days. I am working a lot at the bakery here in town and serving as a caretaker for a woman who had a stroke a few years back. my kids are thriving in school. eric is tapping his foot for spring. I have friends dealing with heartache and change. I am trying not to get sucked in to political warfare. I struggle about where we should attend church as a family. I have a jar where I dump my tip money and I taped a list of all the things I want to save up for. the list seems larger than the jar's contents could ever be. we eat a lot of bread. I am equal parts eager for summer and worried about how I am going to manage it all. I am thankful to be healthy and whole and grumpy about being busy and grumpy. I don't always like the way I talk to my kids. I waver between wanting to think about adoption and wanting jamin and cora to move out already. I haven't been writing which feels bad but I don't feel like I have much to say which feels worse. but mostly things are good and fine and boring in the way that only seems boring because this is my daily life and boring can be good. and really only boring people are ever bored.







upon further questioning jamin admitted that there was some coaching (via eric) in his answer about his weekend activities. eric and I laughed about it later. when eric suggested this "mother-approved" statement, jamin was concerned about potential dishonesty so eric just told him he better work hard to make it a true statement. so he did. and knowing the backstory only makes me love it even more. don't we all need a little coaching on what to say in certain situations? and don't we all need a nudge to make the best answer also the truest answer? I think so.

whatever life is asking of us, let's all strive to make "mostly just eat vegetables and play outside" the truest, rightest, fullest, best answer. I can only think of good things happening if we do.

Saturday, January 2, 2016

rabbit rabbit

rabbit rabbit

i. when I was a kid in the dark ages before cell phones my parents had CB radios in their cars. my dad drove a little blue nissan truck that he had to fold his tall body into like an accordion. my mom drove a minivan. it was blue with a woodgrain panel running along the side. when we were in the car headed home after school or swim practice my mom would put out the call to my dad: “break, one-seven. how ‘bout cha rabbit dog, how ‘bout that one rabbit dog—you by the channel?” truckers would often answer her, surprised I suppose to hear a woman on their air waves, and she would talk to them too: “looking only for the rabbit dog. and I will remind you there are little ears on this channel, so thank you kindly for your consideration.” they would apologize and behave themselves and my dad would eventually answer “this is the rabbit dog. go ahead, little rabbit. what is your ten-twenty?” after all that preliminary action, he would ask to talk to me or my sister, bunny puppy number one and bunny puppy number two. we would grab hold of that speaker with the long curly cord and tell the rabbit dog what we had for lunch or sing him songs we’d learned at school. I am sure the truckers loved all that, too. we were the only family I knew who communicated by CB radio. no one has called me bunny puppy in a long long time.

ii. on the last day of every month we remind each other before we go to bed: “don’t forget to say rabbit rabbit when you wake up!” of course january first is an extra important rabbit rabbit since it starts the year as well as the month. who wouldn’t want a little extra luck going into a new year? I usually whisper my rabbit rabbit into the dark when I get up to let the cat out or someone calls from the other room to be covered up. jamin generally remembers on his own. but this time around cora made an executive decision for herself: “I’m not trying to say rabbit rabbit this time. I mean, if I get it, it is okay but I am not going to worry. it can be a good month anyway.” so wise, so willing to make her own luck. so ready to fight tradition and make her own way. she said it anyway yesterday morning. but she then reminded us she wasn’t worried about it. wisdom in five-year-old form.



iii. rabbit and kitra are home from hawaii. there were good things about being a household of four for two weeks, but it feels right to be full around here again, too. my kids are convinced that only rabbit can help them with certain projects, so jamin had been saving a jigsaw puzzle he got at a white elephant party and cora has a sewing craft that she is convinced only rabbit can help with. I wonder how they will remember this time, what their relationship with kitra will be like years from now. I wonder if they will always feel best in a house full of people or if they will live alone for years to make up for it. either way I feel sure jamin will have a puzzle table set up and cora will have a sewing machine on the ready and they’ll tell stories about how they lived with rabbit growing up, no not an animal a person named rabbit, and she taught us to eat with chopsticks and she made the best miso ever and she made our halloween costumes every year and she drove a little green car named mossy. 



iv. andrew, eric’s brother, is raising rabbits. he’s been talking about it for weeks now and a few days ago he struck up conversation with someone in the tractor supply parking lot (the guy was buying rabbit feed, so it was a logical leap) and of course because this is brevard the guy invited andrew to his house to see his set up and offered to be his mentor and sent him home with three tiny rabbits. we’ve held them and snuggled them and tried to ignore the idea that they’ll be stew in a few weeks. these rabbits more than anything say that andrew is here to stay. the kids love seeing him so often. cora climbs all over him the second he walks in the door. “I like having an uncle,” she says, “especially that it is andrew.” jamin loves the games andrew makes up and looks for loopholes in every imaginary rule. it takes jamin longer to warm up, but “wrestle maniac” has helped to break down those hesitancies. now jamin leans into andrew when they sit together on the couch and that lean is just as loving as cora’s acrobatic affections. 



v. I went back to yoga for the first time in maybe eight months or so. they are offering a thirty day challenge, and I can rarely pass up an opportunity with the word “challenge” in the name, so I got myself into the hot room last night. it amazes me what my body remembers. and because my body already knew just want to do, focusing my mind seemed much more possible. “let us begin again,” the teacher said between postures. it was upside down in rabbit pose that I heard it best: there is nothing left to do except uncurl and do it again. my word for 2016 is wide. wide open, wide eyed, wide enough to begin again. wide perspective, wide love, wide arms. wide enough for possibility. wide enough to explore. wide enough to be welcoming. wide for forgiveness, wide for adventure, wide for mistakes, wide for recovery. wide to try something new. wide enough to hold more than one idea at a time. wide for new territory. wide enough to see what happens.






Friday, November 27, 2015

40x40: run up becky mountain

I remember the first time I drove up becky mountain. it was probably 2004. I had a minivanful of girls in tow. we were taking one of those girls up to free rein for a horse therapy session. it was winter. I thought anyone who lived up here must be crazy. while the rest of us waited for the girl with the lesson (this was back when free rein was at sugarbush farm, which I now think of as an extension of our yard pretty much) we drove to eagle lake and played on the swings and threw rocks in the water. I didn't know that wasn't allowed and miraculously no one said a word to us about it.


I remember the first time we drove up becky mountain as a family, to look at the house we live in now. we made the trip down from asheville and I still thought it was a crazy idea to live up here, to make this curvy drive daily. I have since learned that it wasn't all that long ago that becky mountain was a dirt road all the way up to the seeoff switch. a neighbor here on the mountain tells tale of learning to drive in the sixties before it was paved. her daddy told her if she could drive up becky mountain in a stick shift she could drive anywhere in the world so she did it over and over until she had it down. that daddy was probably right.

somehow a few years ago eric got it in his head that he should run up becky mountain. so one thanksgiving he did. it was so cold his beard was frozen by the time he got home. our friend lev was visiting and he danced circles around eric all the way up the mountain, but it kept eric going. and it made eric want to do it again. and again and again and again. it became a tourist attraction for anyone who came to visit: see looking glass falls, eat at bracken mountain bakery, and run up becky mountain. and most of our visitors were totally in. over and over the kids and I stood at the mailboxes to cheer for our friends (stevie. lindsay and maeve. kyle. jason and stephanie.) and over and over I just thought they were all nuts.


but yesterday I joined the ranks of the crazy. not only do I make that windy, curvy drive up and down becky mountain every day, I have not made that climb on foot as well. it is exactly three miles from the bottom of the mountain to our front door. I didn't run much at all, but I did it. on  my own two feet. all three miles in 53 minutes. boo yah.


it is a very different experience to walk a road you are used to driving. I noticed different things all along the way. I couldn't believe I could still hear the cows from the bottom of the mountain even as high as halfway up. I saw driveways I'd never noticed before, I told myself stories about people living along the route I pass through so very often. I thought again about how much of our lives, our spiritual selves is shaped by where we are, the physical geography that surrounds us. how deep the mountains are etched into who I am. how I relate to this place like I was born to it. how even through the asphalt through my sneakers I could feel this ancient hill in the very core of who I am.



I sang out loud until I was too out of breath to keep up with the tempo of my feet, and even then music poured through my head every step of the way. over and over I heard my deepest self say, "this is all that is required of you: one more step. one more step." and that is exactly what I did. one more. one more. one more. until I was home. 

it is really all that is required of any of us. one more step. all the way home.



Put one foot in front of the other
Steppin' into the here and now
I'm not sure just where I'm goin'
But I will get there anyhow

I got this far with no direction
Followed my nose to where I stand
My heart's still strong, I know I'll make it
Sit right down in the promised land


Wednesday, November 25, 2015

too noisy peter

my mom is a trainer. not the kind that helps you work out in a gym (although, given her personality and stubbornness she might not be half bad at it), but the kind that stands in front of large groups of people to prepare them for a job they have just excepted. mostly she trains people to work with teenagers in residential facilities. she is very good at her job. 

one of the curses of having a mother who speaks in front of large groups of people on a regular basis is having family stories become part of the training material. she regularly uses a certain story of a certain daughter who stood in front of the church during the christmas cantata making a slashing motion across her throat every few seconds. when she talks about "family speak" (the phenomenon that occurs when families use their own language among themselves that other people may not understand) she gives away years' worth of inside jokes and family secrets. after decades in the training room these stories have become soundbites, sanitized down so that the players are barely recognizable anymore. she talks about how we call the remote control "the beep beep" or how for years none of us said anything but "shhhhhhicken" whenever someone asked what was for supper. it isn't embarrassing anymore because we feel so far removed from the players that we were in those stories.

I've been thinking about my mom in her training sessions as I think about blogging. I've been trying to decide how long I can talk about my kids online without their knowing about it. I think of this space as relatively private, but of course it isn't. just last week someone I met for the first time told me that she has been reading my blog for years. flattering, yes, but a bit tricky as well. how fair is it to our kids to have an online presence they don't know about? when they go to google themselves years from now, will they be okay knowing I've been recording their childhoods for my own self-indulgent blog fodder? already the precursor anytime I take cora's photo is "okay, but don't send it to anyone." a reasonable request, I'd say. 

but if I'm not going to write about my kids, what the heck do I have left to say?

the struggle is more than blogging. I am at a place in life when I want very different things from life than what my kids want. that has been true since the moment they were born, but now we are to a place as a family that we have the maturity to pursue different stuff in bigger ways. some of us are more ready for that change than others. but for me I feel rather lost when I realize I can do anything I want to do. for so long I have been parenting, direct in-the-trenches parenting my own kids, as well as group home parenting, foster parenting, teaching parenting classes, leading parenting support groups, heck I even teach a parenting sunday school class at church. I am ready for what is next. and I don't have a damn clue what that is.

and of course it is not that simple. just because I am ready for a parenting break doesn't mean my kids are done being parented. and just because I recognize this need for change, this shift in habits and identity doesn't mean I know what to do instead. and just because I know I want something different doesn't mean that change is gonna come overnight, just because I say I am ready.

in our own family speak we often say to each other with a sigh, "too noisy peter." it was a bedtime story favorite of jamin's for what felt like years. you know the folktale: a man thinks his house is noisy so the local wise guy suggests bringing a variety of animals to live inside his house with him. then when he pares his life down just to what it was before, his world is blissfully peaceful and he lives contentedly ever after. 

the problem in our house is that I am the opposite of peter. I rarely complain about the noise. instead I am driven to distraction by the quiet. we hit a seasonal lull and I start saying things like "we should really think about adopting another kid" or "I think we should move to idaho" or "wouldn't it be fun take a trip to south america for an indefinite period of time?" my family is not entertained. they roll their eyes and keep talking about whatever things normal families talk about, just to spite me.

but the past few months I've been hiding. after four months away from life here this summer, a whirlwind tour of new england, coming home to homeschool and homestead, two big disappointments in the potential job arena, an extra roommate and an extra dog, I just don't feel up to it all. it feels like failure not to feel like myself. it feels like paralysis not to know what to leap into next. it feels like a loss to not have a plan, a dream, a vision. 

but here is where the magic happens, too. sometimes the not knowing is the most knowing place of all. questioning where we've been, where we're going, and how we're going to get there is how life happens. I'd rather feel lost every so often than coast through the life unexamined. I'd rather feel too noisy and too quiet and have to do something about it than not feel any of it at all. 

so here we are: change is coming. it's already happening. every bit is just preparing us all for the next bit. the same girl that made those slashing motions across her throat in the church concert has to decide which stories about her own kids the world gets to know. and the wisest around me say I have to get quieter, much much quieter, before I can get myself up to the life noise level I prefer. so that's what I'm doing: paying attention, listening, staying willing to change. even if it means a pace of life different than what I think I prefer. even if it doesn't happen on my own timetable. 

and in family speak, it all sounds just right.


Unconditional
Willing to experience aloneness,
I discover connection everywhere;
Turning to face my fear,
I meet the warrior who lives within;
Opening to my loss,
I gain the embrace of the universe;
Surrendering into emptiness,
I find fullness without end.
Each condition I flee from pursues me,
Each condition I welcome transforms me
And becomes itself transformed
Into its radiant jewel-like essence.
I bow to the one who has made it so,
Who has crafted this Master Game.
To play it is purest delight;
To honor its form--true devotion.
- Jennifer Welwood

Friday, October 2, 2015

because I don't know what else to do

a blessing for my friend

I don't remember meeting you.
it must have been in those early days of watauga
where everyone seemed too cool
or at least wanted to be
and I felt preppy and normal in a way I had never felt in high school.
I don't remember not knowing you that first college year.
I remember the purple rug in my dorm room
where we would eat lunches comprised completely of orange foods:
mac and cheese, cheesy rice, and tang by the gallon.

I remember road trips, trips too long to take by car really,
packed into college minivans
viginia
mississippi
charlotte
la
(we flew that last time, but you were convinced
we should have driven there too)

there were whole semesters I would barely see you
surprised by you in the lunch line
once in a while.

but then we were neighbors that last year, remember?
you borrowed my clothes
(how is it possible our very different bodies
could ever fit into the same pair of jeans?)
I braided your hair
we crawled in and out of windows.
there were beach parties indoors in february.
there were drives on the parkway.
there was outkast and dixie chicks and black crows and india arie.

we left school and our lives kept crossing here and there
but all of this is just to say
you are my friend.
I hold you in my heart.
you know my best and
you definitely know my worst.

I don't know how to love you best right now.
I don't know how to carry this hard time with you.
I don't know how to tell you I am sad, too.
I don't know where to put my sorrow.
I don't know how to ease yours.

but indulge me
(you always do)
to offer what I can.

to you,
my friend,
the one who knows my old self
and the self that self is becoming,
the one who has seen me in stripy socks and apron shirts,
the one who has never been scared away
not by my tears
not by my bluntness
not by my absence
not by my darkness,
to you, my friend,
I give this blessing.

may you always know just how loved you are.
may you always feel the warmth others feel from your smile.
may you burn long as your soul shines and shines.
may the world be big enough to hold all your sadness
with room left over for hope.
may you bask in the glow you have shed on others' lives.
may your vision be broad enough to know we can never see the whole thing at once.
may you feel empowered to ask for help when you need it,
the same way you have offered help so many countless times.
may your good always always outweigh your bad.
may you always be your mother's daughter.
may you always be your father's princess.
may you always feel safe
to feel the way you feel.
may you always be your little one's mama.
may you always know that role is yours to keep, no matter what.
may you always stay open to whatever is next.
may you be surrounded by your people forever and ever.
may you always know just how loved you are.