Saturday, July 2, 2011

my favorite girl

My favorite girl will be 22 years old this month. It seems like yesterday, and then again like a hundred years ago that she asked me to braid her hair, tie her bows and cut her sandwiches into triangles. 

The questions she used to ask had to do with what I thought the cat was thinking and what if the moon didn't come back tomorrow night or if I really liked Mrs. So-and-So's dress or was I just kidding? 

Her personality has been sunny, optimistic and full of wonder from day one. She rarely needed more than raised eye brows to set her on the path of righteousness. Or a pointed question about what "Sherry the Party Pooper" would do in the same situation she found herself to right the tilting planet of her attitude and actions. 

Her questions and our conversations are more weighty these days. No challenge can be easily solved with a cookie, a kiss and a nap like those used-to-be times. It appears I am not as powerful to vanquish all wrong, heal all hurts or tidy all messes like I used to be.

The launching of this child is one I am tip-toe-ing gently through, as one would a bed of violets. Mostly because I believe the calling on her life to be so unique. Because her destiny will be different, interesting and fulfilling. Because the family she will begin some day will be full of the joy overflowing from the abundance from her heart. Because, despite the outward appearance of fragility there lies a core of loyality, courage and strength that will confound those whose gaze is casual or who see only the surface of beauty. 

Violets are hardy. God is good and faithful. For 22 years I've been blessed as the mom of this baby girl. I am looking forward to all the years to come.

Happy birth month, Emily Joy, darling one.    

Thursday, June 9, 2011

my ideal woman

I spent some time this week with my ideal woman. I brought her some lunch. A salad, snacks, peach tea and some flowers from Central Market. Delivered by a sweaty, tired me to the hospital room she occupies with her husband. He's the one in the hospital gown and the cranked up bed. 

I've known her (I'll call her Julie M.) casually for several years. Mostly through her daughters - who moved, with flair, through my church children's ministry. These girls are a testimony of some pretty inspired mothering - their wide-eyed innocent trust, their bed-rock assurance, their humor and compassion - all cause me to smile when I think of them.

From a distance I've watched her navigate the waters of an increasingly debilitating brain tumor - numerous surgeries, lengthy hospital stays and treatments, a cane, a walker, a wheel chair - with her husband.

This week I watched Julie M, with grace and as she does every day, fulfill what we all promise when we get married - the 'in sickness and in health' part. Much of the man she married isn't now visible to my eyes - but I don't think what I see is what she sees.

- she touched him, held his hand, brushed his hair off his forehead at every opportunity
- she advocated for him passionately with a nurse about a medication she didn't think he needed
- she spoke to him tenderly and patiently when he was agitated and unable to make himself understood
- a private joke or two passed between them
- she proudly introduced him to an old grad-school friend who dropped by 
- his eyes followed her everywhere
- she hadn't been home, had a shower, seen her girls or slept in a bed in several days - but she was incredibly beautiful
- she treated my tired salad and watery tea like it was a banquet
- her eyes were too far past exhausted to twinkle but they had this deep, peaceful, abiding .... them
- when I turned my eyes away during a minor medical procedure she smiled at me and said that love makes a lot of things possible that you thought you would never be able to do

I feel pretty certain that as she is carrying out that part of the marriage vows few of us are called upon to, she is also experiencing something few of us do. 

I am awed by Julie M., and by what love is making possible. 


Thursday, June 2, 2011

the construction zone

Last month I cried over the death of someone I knew only slightly and having to say goodbye to my English students and a new baby-friend spending his first days in the NICU instead of his mamma's arms. 
Last week it was because both my beloved brothers were sad and the fact I wasn't at my nephew's hard-won high school graduation and that I had to skype-hug rather than really-hug my niece. 
Then it was because Terry filled the bird feeders and Emily finished all the at-home duties we usually share and someone forgave me, quite undeservedly. 
Next it was because there doesn't seem to be any way I can meet the expectations of someone I love. 
Then there was David Taylor's blog post on friendship with a capital F. 
And yesterday it cost way too much money to ship a box of warm clothes, books and favorite snacks to Africa.
Today it was in the market's produce section because there were these gorgeous artichokes that Stephen isn't here to eat with us.

My heart feels these days like it feels when I just (dang it) go ahead and let it...under construction once again. The cords are stretching and groaning with...whatever is coming next, I feel it.

I think I like this feeling, despite all the inconvenient leaking of tears. I think I am going to try and stay in the construction zone as long as I can stand it.

I think having family is worth the pain and joy that comes with them. I think having students to drive you crazy and to love is worth the trouble. I think having friends with high expectations is better than having friends who don't. I think having smart, thoughtful, feeling, creative friends and babies who live anywhere is an enormous gift. I think I'd rather learn and stretch and grow than not. 

So, when you see me in your minds' eye with those orange cones surrounding me, it doesn't mean 'stay away' it means 'this is where it's happening, come on in!' 

Just bring some kleenex with you.

Monday, April 18, 2011

what love looks like

I was a pretty decent homeschooler...all those many years ago. I researched curriculum, wrote curriculum, studied my kids, chose the best programs, worked hard at prep and having a great attitude and co-oped with the best of them. My kids have been to every museum, working farm, factory, brewery, printer, military installation and historical site within a 300 mile radius. I took them to Europe, Mexico and a bunch of places in between. They both were accepted into plenty of colleges and universities and they are smart, accomplished young adults who love learning.

Homeschooling was really amazing and I loved (almost) every minute of it with my kids. But honestly, after 18 years I was glad when Emily went to college full time. For about two years I was glad. 

Then my friend David told me he needed a sub this year for a few classes of high school English comp for a cool group he operates called One Day Academy. 
I pretty much begged him to let me teach. It has been wonderful. 
The curriculum was written by another friend, Debra Pahlow, and is way better than anything on the market and certainly better than anything I've ever written. It's deep, rich, engaging, educational and fun. 
If you have a student in the Austin area you should try to get them in one of Debra's classes.
Besides the awesome curriculum I am absolutely in LOVE with the students. They are surprising and maddening, mind-blowing creative and infuriating, heart-stoppingly insightful and mind-numbingly forgetful - and such a delight. 

The problem? The extrovert in me who loves teaching and taking kids places does not so much much like cooking. By myself. I like cooking with Terry. He is a inspiring and creative cook. Everything we make together, although it takes a while to get to the table, is great. But he is off tutoring college math with Emily in the study, nowhere near the kitchen. And he SHOULD tutor college math...I did grades 1-12, right? 

So what love looks like tonight is me alone in the kitchen making Hamantashen for my students end-of-the-study Book of Esther Purim celebration. I'm just not so good at this kind of thing anymore. The cookies are too fat, the filling is runny and they look NOTHING like the picture Debra sent me. After three crummy batches I am obviously in avoidance mode, writing instead of cooking-problem-solving. 
I am also googling who might make those cookies in town so I can go buy them instead of continuing to majorly fail at tri-cornered, jam-filled, cooking-baking.

I just went to the study to whine and Emily's remark was, "Mom, just go find a Jewish bakery where they make those things."

That's my girl.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

here and there

I like big suitcases and multi-page tickets, those little horse-shoe shaped pillows and airplanes. I like the little screens built in the back of the seats and having my ipod on all night.
I like holding other people's babies and putting them to sleep. (The parents think you are magic but really you were just a fresh pair of un-exhausted arms.) 
I like it when the little ladies bring you warm face clothes and breakfast with plenty of hot tea.
I sort of like that feeling that you are in limbo, time isn't important, and could those little animated maps which show you are flying over Greenland really be true?
I like getting on a plane in one time zone and with one climate and getting off in others.

I like seeing the world through eyes that are used to Texas but open wide.
I like the houses of friends that have familiar furniture, books and pictures but are set in neighborhoods full of voices, scents and sounds that have nothing to do with where I saw them last. I like it that their children have grown taller than me, not to mention beautiful, wise and even more wonderful.
I like watching friends do what they were made to do - to love and teach and learn.
I like hearing languages full of words I don't understand but also smiles that I do.
I like it when someone else does my laundry and irons everything.

I like being just one of two white women on a street full of dark-haired merchants whose curious stares and enticing wares make me wish I had a million dollars.
I like paper money with colored pictures and lots of zeros. 
Koi ponds with lazy fish and trees for which I have no names.
I like it when it rains. Hard and loud.
I like not knowing what that sound is or where it came from.
I like eating unfamiliar things and praying there are no repercussions.
I like volcanoes - from a distance, rice and sugar cane fields, chickens in dirt yards and strange breeds of cows in pastures on steep hillsides. 
I like it when someone else drives so I can watch traffic - with only occasional gasps. And seeing entire families on one motorcycle.

I like living in Austin, closing my eyes and remembering. And knowing I can adventure again. My heart is very full and very thankful.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

the pitter patter of little feet

Very early this morning I knew something wasn't right.

Our bedroom is in the back corner of the house - it has a high vaulted ceiling. This makes for great sleeping on rainy nights and sweet dreams when the full moon peeks through the sky lights.

It's also great for experiencing urban wildlife. For several years now an owl pair has hatched owlets in a neighbor's oak tree - they have 'whooo-ing' and flying lessons across the back yards of five or six of our houses. We all talk over the fences each spring about how many babies we've heard and seen and how big the nest is this year. A fat raccoon wanders from shed roof to house roof sometimes -  just for something new to do - he's got a scary shuffle for a raccoon. There's a feral calico who walks the fence tops regularly and chats at high volume with the softer, house-and-backyard felines. The mockingbirds like the next door neighbor's arbor for their morning screech, The dog of the fireman in the house behind us yips for the first hour or so after the family leaves each morning.

And nearly every dawn Terry and I can hear the squirrels jump from the red oaks in the front yard onto the garage of our house, participate in a frantic frolic across the gables and the expanse of the family room vaulted ceiling, a quick chase around the chimney a couple of times, across our bedroom rooftop and then....a short leap onto the ash tree in the back yard and away. With occasional noisy side trips to the fiberglass roof of the screened porch or the bird feeders on the breezeway.

This morning the squirrel trek started as usual at the front corner of the house and continued across the roof...but then there was silence at the jumping off spot above our bedroom. Lots of silence. Then a very noisy rodent discussion. For quite a while. A couple of squirrels even went back across the house, got some friends from the oaks in the front and came back. No side trips, just straight back.

Terry was philosophical, as he usually is in the early morning, but I couldn't stand it. I got up, put on a robe and slippers and went out to join the dawn gathering.

It was pretty tragic. A very large branch from the ash had come down in the night, it was  dry and must have been dead for some time. It was broken in several places and heavily dead, sunken into the wet earth. Smaller branches were shattered all over the grass. I was just grateful it was in the yard and not on the roof. I guess I was the only grateful one present as it became apparent quickly that the animal conversation was, "NOW how are we gettin' from the house to the tree tops?"

With a cup of tea in hand I watched the discussion and trial forays from house to trees and back again for as long as I could.  I am not sure consensus was ever reached.

New things are oftentimes difficult and unsettling. But I've got faith that new beginnings  lead to learning, adventure and fun.

And I am going to bed now so the morning will come quicker.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

some wishes I am wishing

"The stars at night, are big and bright, deep in the heart of Texas."

They are from the swing in my back yard tonight, anyway. A cup of tea, a fleece wrap and Chequers at my feet make for a quiet hour. The pool pump hums just a little, not loud enough to cover the night birds, the wind in the ivy or the neighborhood settling.
The stars are very bright. And I've made a list of my wishes...

I wish my brother and sister-in-law the fulfillment of their hopes.
I wish my friend health and wholeness. 
I wish my co-worker success.
I wish my family and friends sweet dreams or a wonderful day, depending on the side of the world they live on.
I wish everybody everywhere had enough of everything.
I wish every child had wonderful parents.
And that I had more faith.
I wish for world peace.
And that the continents hadn't drifted so far apart.
That time travel and significant weight loss were possible in seconds.
I wish that maybe January had a few more days in it.
I kind of wish I could be in charge for a little while. Of the world.

But I guess I am ok, just on my swing making wishes.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

one of these days

One of these days I am going to stop being surprised. Maybe.

I think my son is pretty awesome. I like everything about Stephen from his green eyes, snorty laugh and vague irreverences to the way he pauses, sometimes for a very long time, when you talk to him on the phone. I like his tender heart and his desire always for justice and to champion those in need of a champion. I like it that he does this without fear or much thought to the consequences. I like it that he invites learning and growth in his life, that he works hard at everything and that he has better boundries than me. Plus about a million other things.
From the time he was very young I have admired the way Stephen attracts, makes and keeps a really interesting, eclectic group of friends. As a student of child development I take this as a compliment of our parenting - it was probably just him, but I still like the credit. A sort of testimony of his ability to differentiate well. And maybe a tiny bit of a slam at those who told me years ago I would never raise emotionally healthy kids by educating them mostly at home. Take THAT, ye nay-sayers.
Yesterday some 50 of these friends held an Iron Chef competition, bought and cooked food, or came and paid to eat and judge the food. They sat and talked and laughed and ate. All in support Stephen's upcoming months in Africa.
It was fun to watch.
I overheard snatches of conversations concerning events and work and play. I saw looks and hugs and words exchanged that I know not the history or future of. There were jokes and stories and memories shared. Plans and dreams for tomorrow and next week and forever were discussed. I observed a community of thriving, creative, smart, fun, intense, passionate, authentic, diverse men and women in action.
I wasn't surprised. But I was surprised. Like maybe all parents are when they see what they've longed for happening and they realize it's time for the next season. (Insert a deep, cleansing breath here.)    
At the end of the day these friends all cleaned up the kitchens together. At the end of the day they handed over an envelope with a significant amount of money inside. At the end of the day many surrounded him and prayed prayers of blessing, encouragement and hope.  
At the end of the day Stephen had to sit down for a bit under the grateful weight of the honor of those blessings.
His mom did too.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

joy like swords

Just about every page of The Return of the King speaks to me on some level of heart, mind and soul.

There are times when the reading of certain passages brings out the warrior woman. Times when righteous anger wells up, then mercy. Times when I am reminded of duty and courage, of blessed rescue and laughter, of faithful friendship and trust above all. 

But there's this one part ~ sort of at the end of everything ~ at a farewell banquet. The battles have been won, evil vanquished, the king is on his throne and the fellowship has been reunited...only to part again. Back to the destinies they've fought for the opportunity to fulfill. 

"And all the host laughed and wept, and in the midst of their merriment and tears the clear voice of the minstrel rose like silver and gold, and all men were hushed. 
And he sang to them, now in Elven-tongue, now in the speech of the West, until their hearts, wounded with sweet words, overflowed, and their joy was like swords, and they passed in thought out to the regions where pain and delight flow together and tears are the very wine of blessedness."

hearts wounded with sweet words
       joy like swords
              pain and delight flow together
                      tears, the wine of blessedness

Are there any words better than these to describe the parting between loved ones?

Winter is a season of good-byes for me. Some anniversaries of good-byes and some present day ones. All the memories aren't awful, the soon to be good-byes are for the purposes of obedience and adventure and destiny. It's all good.

But I am keeping Tolkien handy.
And kleenex.