Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Having a merry....

Kyra is showing off her new Santa ornament--we were oblivious for some time that Grandma had tucked a beautiful silver necklace inside--how many Christmases might that have gone unnoticed???

It's only right to select a picture of Lucas that is blurred--he didn't stop moving from dawn until dusk. One of his fabulous cousins was flipping through the photos last night and said, "Lucas just doesn't take a normal picture, does he?" Indeed, he is a stand up comedian at age four--and his holiday routine was bigger than most!

Our Christmas tradition....baking Grandma Phyllis's candy cane rolls. We live for this moment each year, and celebrate how she is still part of our holiday. Kyra bakes with a bit more attitude than her grandmother did, I suspect, but it's a loving tradition for us all.

Just a few glimpses into our very happy Christmas day--celebrated in CT and NY, with relatives from CT, NY, OR and MA! What a gift!

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Steam rising from the river

Christmas is only two and a half weeks away, and I'm feeling as though I'm even further behind than my usual "slow to get ready for the holiday" way. The late Thanksgiving, a back-end loaded seminary class, and a few major projects and commitments at work have made this a more compressed time than usual (though in truth, I probably said just the same last year!).

To complicate matters, the Christmas plans aren't exactly nailed down as of yet. We're in the fortunate/unfortunate (glass half full or half empty?) position of having family in opposite corners of the country--Matt's sister and brother and partners/children in Oregon, and my dad in Florida--and it is simply impossible to ever be with everyone for Christmas. Florida has been the more frequent destination of late, with the sweet blessings of spending a few last holidays with my grandparents, but our kids are also now the age where they want to be home. (...or we as parents want them to be home....) Plus, Matt's sister and family have made plans to come east this year to celebrate.

We at one time presumed we would all converge on Matt's parents' home in New York (my sister included), but Matt now works nights for a major shipping firm....there aren't holiday days off when you are the newcomer in an industry that exists primarily because of holiday shopping and shipping. So, back to the drawing board. At this point we will be here in Connecticut with my sister, and Matt's sister and family will be in New York with Matt's parents....and everyone is feeling a bit sour and disappointed about it all.

We long for our kids to be with the Oregon relatives more often....truly, we do. We were gifted to live near our nieces when they were small, and we know how magical those years are, and also how quickly they pass (with those same nieces nearly launched for college). But this morning, as I walked the dog along the river, I realized that I am as disappointed in not being able to share our home and day-to-day life with them as I am about missing this one holiday together.

When they first moved west, we hopped a plane for a few years of Christmas celebrations. They were in retail then, camping out for all of late November/December at the area mall in desperate hopes of strong sales. We had the freedom from work that is more theirs now. I remember walking my nieces to school, and spending days at the mall simply to be near them--drives around the neighborhood to see their favorite Christmas lights, visits with my brother-in-law's family (the draw that moved them from NY back to OR), and even trips to the summer camp directed by my sister-in-law. Those locations weren't the places that frame our lives, but they were meaningful because they were theirs.

Now we share this feeling--this sense that knowing us and knowing our lives is somehow richer if you've stepped foot in it. We want to bring them along on walks by the river, sharing the beauty of the steam rising as the frosty air sneaks up the backs of our jackets. We want to have drinks at the bar down the road. Buy our favorite pizza. Drive them around to say, "Look....look at this place we have come to live in and now love. This is our life, right here, right now." And we're simply not sure if or how this will happen.

For those who can't experience it--who perhaps won't ever take those walks with us by the river, I want to wrap up the gift of our contentment. I want those who love us to know our deep pleasure in this place and this time. As I type, the Christmas lights shine from the tree, the dog rests quietly on the couch after our long morning walk, and the kids are busily creating their own Christmas presents with rocks and markers and magazines and glue....state secrets spilled out over the dining room table from which I have been forbidden to visit. Matt lies sleeping upstairs after another night at work, and we all celebrate that the weekend is here. Happiness....contentment....peace....steam rising from the river. These are all the gifts I would have you all to know.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Thanks. Giving.

Does giving thanks resemble quieting one's kids with harsh threats about taking away the Macy's parade or all future television? Matt works nights now, and we're living a staggered family existence. As I head to bed, he is heading to work, and soon after he rolls into bed, I roll out of it to attempt to keep our two boisterous children and barky dog silent so he can sleep. It's not easy on any of us. Today it was a sufficiently difficult task that I insisted both kids walk the dog with me. They ran circles around the muddy baseball field at the park below our house, but not long or hard enough to tire any of them into silent submission. More threats, more turning off of the TV, more separation of children. You get the picture! But Matt is now up, the kids are set free from the chains of hushing, and all of Thanksgiving day stretches out before us, dinner with friends not scheduled until 5pm tonight.

Thanksgiving has become a sort of secondary holiday for us, despite that many families are more likely to travel now than in December for Christmas, Hanukkah or Kwanzaa. (Come to think of it, we don't travel much for Christmas either!) Years ago, the first or second Thanksgiving of our married life I believe, Matt and I returned to New York to his parents' rural country home. It's restful to be there, and after indulging in hikes on their property, long afternoons of reading by a sun-filled window (This was pre-kids; we were still able to read!), and over-consumption of every sort, we delayed our departure to the last possible moment. We headed for home on Sunday afternoon, expecting a few traffic bumps but nothing of significance. To our great surprise and dismay, our trip took twice as long as usual, and we were crawling out of our skin by the time we returned to Massachusetts. We called to declare we would never return for Thanksgiving and put ourselves through that again, and I believe we've only gone back on this "heat of the moment" promise once.....for Matt's parents' 50th anniversary celebration, and on that trip, we left on Saturday and drove through the night rather than make the same mistake twice. Typically we've declared ourselves the Thanksgiving hosts, nestling into our Massachusetts and Connecticut homes for a day of rich smells and tastes, and too many dishes to speak of. (Early menus were color-coded and included tasks for the week ahead of the holiday--I was a bit of a control freak, no?) I don't know the last time I spent Thanksgiving with my father, though I suspect it was at least a decade ago, and the day often feels like more of a much-deserved day off from work than a family holiday.

Whether the traditional crowd around the table, or something more informal like our own celebration, it is always a gift to give and to say thanks. While we're quite good at the giving thanks aspect, I'd like for us to increase the giving part of the day. This is something we'll be more able to do in a couple of years when the kids are more independent and participative. So in the meantime, we give money and food, and the gift of our prayers for all those alone, longing, and in need. There is so, so much need, and I'm reminded even as I type that many in the world live in settings of war, violence and threat--threats far more serious than my suggestion that my kids will have to miss the rest of the parade.

Peace, Lord, we long for peace. May it begin here in this home, at this moment, with gratitude, thanks, and giving.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Gimme an O....


We're anxiously, eagerly watching the election results roll in, excited by the news to this hour, but always holding our breath after that infamous all-night (and weeks long) wait in 2000. When the original states were called, with Kentucky's eight electoral votes for McCain and Vermont's three electoral votes for Obama, Kyra was immediately despondent--"Awwwww, he's losing?" she cried out. It was a nice opportunity to say, "No matter how things turn out, we'll thank God that we were able to have our say, and we'll be grateful that courageous people are willing to lead the country." It's certainly not a job I would want....

We were planning to spend the evening with friends, pouring the champagne as this historic decision rolls in. The kids were beyond too tired, though, and I had to set aside my selfish want to celebrate with friends and "be the parent," as we say many times a day. Now Matt and I are snuggling up on the couch here at home, I'm avoiding the seminary reading I desperately need to do, and I'm thinking about what it would be like if my grandparents were alive to watch all this underway. If I knew my grandmother as I think I did, I can imagine she would have a harsh word or two for Sarah Palin--I don't think she would have been a fan after that first speech (it seemed to go so quickly downhill from there....). As for my grandfather, he was one for history being made--and it looks like it will be made in grand fashion tonight. I'm sure he and my dad would have been on the phone every five minutes, clocking the results with the speed of the finest CNN pollster. They would have loved every minute of it.

So, in their memory, we'll love every minute of it, too--and pray that somehow Obama's spirit of uniting the country will prevail in practice as it prevailed in his prose.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Lovable "Lu"

Aren't we lucky to live with this little guy and soak up his love, day in, day out? Here we are celebrating him on his first day of school, just a few weeks ago!

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Animals on the loose

I've made brief, passing mention of our town's black bears. While last year's single appearance of one bear in our backyard seemed a fluke--just a wrong turn as she made her way to her usual stops at richer, smellier garbage cans--it seems the bears are here to stay. This year I had the privilege of greeting a bear on our front yard one evening, and this past week, one decided to pass through the neighborhood just as all the school buses were returning. No wonder they are practicing "bear habits" at school side by side with fire drills, emergency evacuations, and so on.

Today we had quite a different set of animals on the loose! These might look familiar! Thanks to our fabulous church for this afternoon of great fun.

Did someone call for a dalmatian? Perhaps this one strayed from the firehouse up the street.

Friendliest tiger I've ever seen!

Hey--where'd this one come from? That's a real wild animal--or at least Ty barking his noisy head off!

All fun must end, as we know. Here's a teary Lucas at bedtime, facing (quite literally) that the tiger could not go to bed with him. Over and over he cried, "But I'm never going to remember him. I'm going to forget him!" And come to think of it, I probably sound just like him as I achingly face the end of my fabulous weekends at home! May we all carry the memories with us into this new week--and may these friendly, familiar animals frequent our homes more often than the truly wild visitors!

Monday, September 01, 2008

Summer's end

Perhaps the biggest story of the summer is the arrival of Ty, our lab-something or other mix dog. He is my walking pal each morning, sparring partner (and love object) of the kids all afternoon, and Matt's competition on the bike path each evening. We can't get enough of this dog, barky personality and all!

This year's garden was nearly a total bust--too little sun, too much rain, blight covering most everything. It has been a sore disappointment. But in a "hope in the midst of despair" sort of way, this one honeydew melow is plugging along, even after we've given up on most everything. I'm praying that it ripens into something marvelously sweet and juicy!

Okay, I couldn't resist another picture of gorgeous Ty. Now you can see why we love him so!

When I began this blog, I was continuously composing in my mind--envisioning each day's simple exchanges as a post of great wisdom and insight. Of late, the blog is a distant memory....more of a "gosh, I should let people know what we're up to" sort of tug from time to time. This is, in part, due to work and classes; but it's also because I'm trying to be more in the moment than scheming how to shape the moment into a blog post!

Summer is concluding today--at least the no-school, days at the pool sort of summer--and I wanted to at least capture a few words and images of this banquet of life. And yes, I want to update my long-neglected record of what I've been reading!

First, the books.... Grace (Eventually) by Anne Lamott, Kyra by Carol Gilligan, Morning Sun on a White Piano: Simple Pleasures and the Sacramental Life by Robin Meyers, The Faith Club (I'm mere pages from the end!).... There are more; I know there are. But perhaps I'll just have to call it water under the bridge and move on to memories of summer.

What I will always remember.... Kyra discovering suddenly that she can swim underwater without plugging her nose, and just days later, jumping into the 12 foot diving pool for the first time! I'll remember Ty tugging me toward the front/side yard after an evening walk on the bike path; when I looked up, there was one of our friendly, wandering black bears! Eek--what a sight! I'll remember how long Lucas looked each day--how he has grown into his own body and skin and become fully a boy, no longer a baby. I'll remember an afternoon of canoeing with Matt, our lunch in Litchfield, and many an evening watching Weeds or the latest Netflix delivery. Most of all, I'll treasure the memories of dinner out on our screened-in porch--hour after hour of family togetherness listening to the rustle of wind in the trees, the whine of Ty through the door, and the happy sounds of a neighborhood come to life each evening!

A toast to the bliss of summer!

Friday, July 11, 2008

Home alone

The kids are at "Auntie Camp" this week, and Heather has truly planned a special outing for each and every day. We've been talking about this week for a year, after the kids spent a long weekend there last summer and Matt and I got another taste of what it feels like to be on our own. The leap from a long weekend to a week seemed a bit much--particularly when we had the escape hatch of home open, given that Matt and I decided not to travel but to simply have the "staycation" that Governor Rell has been suggesting. But a trip to the library, a water park, the movies, the zoo, and the Duck Boat tour seems to have taken off any homesick edge little Lucas might have been feeling. (His big sister is happy enough with Auntie that I suspect she would gladly move in, if not for her bike, scooter and dog being here in CT.)

I had a new assistant starting at work this week, so my original intention to be off for the whole week didn't pan out. I did take off Thursday and Friday (today), though, and it's been pure bliss. Yesterday we drove to western CT and enjoyed the hill country--the drive was spectacular, we treated ourselves to a decadent anniversary lunch at an outdoor cafe, and the weather could not have been more perfect. Even a couple of hours of lawn mowing and garden weeding didn't dampen our enthusiasm! Today has had additional pleasures in store. We took the canoe out on the river for the first time this summer--and we took Ty for what we believe was his very first canoe trip. Matt clearly had the more difficult role--steering from behind, constant urging of the dog to sit, and a solo paddle of 10 minutes upstream at one point as I talked with the kids on the cell phone. Ah, technology.... But it was four of the finest hours I can remember. We stopped at a sandy beach along our route and gave Ty yet another swimming lesson. (He doesn't yet trust his instincts; we're working on him!) The cool of the river water gently drifting downstream was just what the warm day needed, and creation was in its glory in the presence of a blue heron, a hawk, and turtles galore appearing at multiple points along our journey.

Other pleasures from the summer banquet thus far? Kyra and I went to Camp Wightman for the first time. I intended to blog as soon as we returned, to share the absolute joy I felt in seeing my child come alive to camping as I did when I was young--but alas, I think that blog remained in my mind. I'm trying to decide if we'll go back this summer. From the lake to the root-laden trails to the boisterous voices in the camp dining hall, the experience was the perfect blend of newness and nostalgia. The summer has included a couple of trips to the pool we joined--showing off the kids' increasing swimming confidence, and of course countless walks with the dog, morning and night, every single day.

At moments I feel it all slipping away too, too quickly, but then I open my palm, stop trying to clutch and hold it all still, and enjoy how summer and time, like the river, wash right on over me.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

55 miles per hour

This morning I traveled for a meeting in a city south of us and, having left with more than enough time, I settled in for a gas-conserving, 55 miles per hour drive. I had to set the cruise--if not for this automatic control, I would have continually given in to the pressure of the crowd piling up behind me. Surprisingly, I didn't hear a single horn blare in my direction and I was oblivious to any rude gestures that might have come my way. It was a practice of restraint, of course, but it was an occasion for great learning, too. I discovered along the way that...

...driving slowly lacks the exhiliration of the 80 miles per hour, weaving in and out of traffic traveling I've been known for on occasion, but the sense of safety beats the exhiliration any day!

...I never have to slam on the brakes when approaching a police officer if already driving 10 miles per hour under the speed limit.

...I sometimes worry too much about others' opinions and actions, but if I stay in my lane, keep my eyes in front of me, and worry only about my own driving, I'm a far more focused and happy driver--and person!

...when we do things that are counter-cultural, we give permission to others to do the same. There were a number of occasions when cars would get behind me and follow suit for 5, 10, 15 miles. It was as though the drivers were simply waiting for someone else to claim a controlled pace with them.

...conserving energy (in this case, gas) requires being planful. You must leave on time. You can't answer "just one more email" or "just one more call." You have to leave when you say you will--be true to your word--and honor yourself and whomever you are going to meet. It's actually a very respectful way to live.

I could go on and on. Sometimes living "on the cheap" is the path to enlightenment!

Friday, May 23, 2008

Snapshots of life...

No, not real photographs! Word snapshots, you might say.

*Fragile--we all are, aren't we? We had a strange weekend, with Kyra suddenly fainting in the bathroom this past Sunday morning. Though all turned out well in the end, we did call 911, take a visit from the friendly paramedics and police officers of our fine town (our tax dollars at work!), and have those fleeting moments where we thought, "What on earth is happening to our baby?" It was terrifying and quickly over and a reminder that we are all very, very fragile. We are holding the kids closer, loving them with words and gestures and prayers, and trying to be the parents we so want to be. News of the death of Steven Curtis Chapman's daughter only reinforced this need to slow down, to notice one another, and to be in the moment with each other. My gosh--these little ones are so incredibly precious.

*"What will the neighbors think?" I drove home today to catch a brief earful of a neighbor arguing with her teenage son. Matt was vacuuming when I came in, and I suggested he continue doing so lest we teach the kids some new vocabulary words! Later I was talking with another neighbor and she said, in essence, "Reminds me that we're all human!" We were joking about how living in a close-knit neighborhood can keep one's shouting impulses in check from time to time, and how we're probably better parents because of that, "What will the neighbors think?" pause. As I replayed the conversation later, though, I thought how disturbing and sad it is that we tend to care more about those external impressions than we do about the very children we are loving and raising. "What will my children think and feel?" I'd rather ask.

*Books, class, and the life of the mind--I was scheduled to take a week-long intensive course at seminary in June. When I saw the pre-reading list, I immediately began to question my plans--how could I ever devote that amount of evening/weekend time when I am coming up on a major board meeting, trying to enjoy the kids, anticipating summer, etc.? I lost a bit of sleep, tossed and turned, thought about it, and finally decided to drop the course. (Having one free course a term is incentive to stick with it as often as I can!) I emailed the registrar late one evening, and the next morning she wrote back to say, "Oh good--we decided yesterday evening that we need to cancel the course due to low enrollment." What a happy chance that we all came to the same conclusion. Now I'm looking forward to a week of vacation, and all the joyous evenings leading up to it.

I've been behind in summarizing, reviewing the books I'm reading....far behind, in fact! I'm going to write a quick list, as I brought home a pile of five more this afternoon. Let's see if I can remember what I've been reading! Did I write about Three Cups of Tea? Brilliant book--an example of the power of being available to life rather than seeking out one's purpose. Sometimes purpose finds us, as certainly was the case in the life of this mountain climber turned international education/peace activist. Then there was Leading from the Soul. While the allegory style of the book wasn't my favorite, and some of it felt over-wrought, I could certainly relate to the sense of crisis for the protagonist--some days you wake up and realize that much of what you are doing doesn't express the deepest impulses of who you are. Climbing back to that sense of self is a powerful journey. (And I've now picked up Parker Palmer's Let Your Life Speak once again to remind me of the journey....) Lastly I read Sex and the Soul, a qualitative study of college students and their integration (or not) of sexuality and spirituality. Having attended a college that would classify itself as evangelical, I found her reflections on this setting to be very true to my experience, and I found myself proud to have made the choice to attend such a school. Am I more liberal than my college? Absolutely. Are there things I would change, and ways that a sometimes pious place undermines its own values? Yes. But I still have a great deal of fondness for my experience. Working now on a very secular college campus, I have to believe that her remarks about this setting through the words and anecdotes of students are similarly apt. Very powerful stuff....

And now I'm on to a new set!

Breathe in, enjoy the moment, celebrate what we have....

Saturday, April 26, 2008

The view from our vacation

The temperature has dropped a good 20 degrees between yesterday and today, but we're still soaking up the sun and living as though we might never again see such a beautiful day. Matt is laying a "rock garden," intended to be a solid foundation for the kids' in-ground sandbox, but truly such a work of art, we're all going to be disappointed when it's covered! I'm on the side porch, appreciating each time the wind blows that the screens haven't yet replaced the glass. Brrr....springtime chill! Our favorite singer-songwriter, Lori McKenna, is pouring her velvety voice out over the scene, and I'm wishing this moment could go on and on and on. (And Lori, favorite singer-songwriter, is coming to OUR TOWN this summer! Truly, OUR TOWN! Have I mentioned how much I love where we live????)

What are the other treasured moments from our vacation?

*Matt and I went to see "The Visitor" while Auntie indulged the kids in some time alone with her at her apartment. Now that they've had regular visits without us, we're seen as spoiling their party to actually come with them and stay! It was a reminder of life both past and future to walk the streets of Boston as we waited for the movie to begin, and conversation with one another that doesn't revolve around work, laundry, or the latest parenting challenge is always a gift. Thank you, Auntie!

*The kids and I were able to partake in our annual tradition, cheering on runners of the Boston Marathon. I've written before about how this event moves me--the pure love of parent and child in the Hoyt father-son pair; the colorful display of our varied skins, flags, and shirts bearing every allegiance under the sun. So many people put their feet to the pavement to raise funds for non-profits, to pay tribute to someone they love, or to memorialize someone they've lost. This year I saw a runner who had pinned a small sign to his back reading, "This one is for you, Mom. We'll miss you. 4/18/2008." His mother had died only three days before, and he was running. I may never run a marathon (though never say never!), but I can relate to the experience of putting the whole of my physical self into an act of personal triumph and tribute to another. Watching the marathon always takes me back to these moments.

*We celebrated Matt's birthday with an excursion to the Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, MA. Though the three and six year olds were less interested in inductees and the factoids one can learn along the way, they were enthralled with some of the interactive displays and activities, and we all enjoyed ourselves. A thrill? When "Daddy" sunk the very first foul shot in a competition!

*It was a week of picnics! We've been eating meals on the porch (where the chill continues!), ventured out for a barbecue at our pastor's house, and also indulged in a gourmet picnic-bench meal with new friends at a favorite local playground. We met these friends for the first time at the playground, and our four kids took immediately to one another, traipsing from end to end without a backward glance. The youngest in the crowd was 2 1/2 years old, and with a whole extra year under his belt, Lucas was the designated watcher and helper to young Ian. At one point Ian ventured out a gate that would typically have been closed, moving without hesitation into the parking lot. Lucas stayed at the gate, called urgently to the parents, and demonstrated that he has the ability to save the life of a friend. I've never been more proud of him.

*Swimming last night at the "parenting through swimming" program we attend brought break-throughs for both kids. Lucas swam from side to side on his own, bravely letting go of the "parent crutch" we've both been nurturing for too long! And Kyra, at the urging of "Mr. Bob" took off her swim float for the first time, holding herself only with milk jugs in her hands. She's getting ready to take off!

Other pleasures abound--visits with neighbors, breakfast this morning at a favorite local cafe, a tour of the recently renovated library (indeed, our community has an embarrassment of riches!), appearances by new flowers and birds, and the purchase of seeds for the garden. It's been a wonderful week. Thank you God for vacation!

Tuesday, April 08, 2008


Matt and the kids are in NY for a couple of days; Matt needs to accompany his dad on some medical appointments, and the kids will have a much-wanted Grandma visit. It's always eerily silent when they are away--and the time becomes a rare opportunity to hear what our neighborhood actually sounds like. I hear my teenage neighbor obsessively bouncing his lacrosse ball off the trampoline-like net that springs it back toward him every few seconds. The occasional plane take-off or approach to landing is suddenly audible. And the noises within the house are more prominent, too. The grandfather clock is tick, tock, ticking away. The laptop in the corner of the living room chirps from time to time, questioning why it's been forgotten and allowed to rest so long today!

When I returned home from work tonight (not too, too late, though it is easy to work late when the house is empty--and the next two nights will be work events!), I could still smell the lingering soap/steam scent from Matt's shower, and the kids' sleep smell seemed to hang in their room. I'll snuggle their blankets to me tonight, a nice reminder of them sleeping soundly a state away.

I miss them, all of them. And the gift of this time is how their absence shines a light on how I sometimes miss them when they're all right here. Don't get my wrong...the silence is a gift. But what I learn from it is part of that gift as well. They are such treasures.

Friday, March 28, 2008


Love the freckles!

Oh, those eyes!

Skiing, if you must ask....how clever are these two? Perfect love!

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Continuing to read....

We're springing forth with a new look....time to bring on the green of the season! Enjoy!
You would think that I had stopped reading altogether, by my silence on recently finished books. This is not the case, though, and merely reflects that I'm not taking the time to blog about it! Given that Matt is embroiled in some conflict between the kids (one that started with the two of them fighting each other, and resulted in Kyra shouting, "HELP ME, LUCAS!" as Matt took something away from her--the switch between siblings from arch enemies to staunch loyalists never ceases to amaze me...), I'm going to catch up my list!

I was privileged to attend a leadership workshop at Andover Newton with Diana Butler Bass and a roomful of engaging pastors and lay leaders back in February. At the time, I had only read about a third of the book on which the workshop was based, so it's as though my eventual reading came with a highly detailed introduction/orientation from the author herself. Having written a spiritual memoir that revealed a number of vital, solid, and even growing mainline congregations in her personal past, Diana set out to refute the media-driven message about the death of mainline religion by studying and profiling congregations that indicated new life, rather than death. The book provided me with a lens--a series of Christian practices (e.g., hospitality, theological reflection)--whereby I consider my own church experience now. I found myself extremely hopeful about our capacity to change, grow and be part of the emerging world after both the book and the workshop.

The last time I read The Bluest Eye, I was in college, I suspect. I'm sure I appreciated the book then, but now, as someone with children, with much more rich encounters with people of color, and with a more sophisticated eye toward writing, I loved indulging in Toni Morrison once again. The occasion was a visit to Lydia Diamond's adaptation of the play for the stage. With a group of 25 from the university attending together, I invited a faculty member who writes frequently on the novel to facilitate a conversation with us ahead of time. She brought us below the layers of Pecola, Claudia, Frieda, and the rest, to the intentionality of Morrison's choices--the deliberateness of her every word. I was reminded why I will never be a novelist. The good news? I don't need to be. I'm gifted enough by Morrison and others!

Sara Miles was an unlikely Christian, having grown up with atheist parents, and living in leftist communities that eschewed Christianity as being a property and product of the conservative religious right. But one day she wandered into an alternative Episcopalian community, received communion at their open-to-all table, and realized she had just eaten Jesus. Sara beautifully describes her passage both before and after her astonishing conversion, and challenges anyone who calls him or herself "Christian" to follow the example of Christ in as credible and authentic a manner. I'm still pages from the end, savoring every bite of this yeast-laden book. It's a meal I don't want to end.

I read for class, I touch every page of "The Christian Century," and still I long for more time! What a wonderful life!

Monday, March 17, 2008

Lottery ticket, anyone?

For years, I insisted to Matt that I believe lottery winnings would only ruin us. While the majority of me still believes this, on days when I'm home, I wonder.... We are such different people--such different parents--and our kids are so well-served by these differences. I wish there was a way that both of us could have more time with them, and they with us. After Matt sacrificed that time for years with a more demanding (and higher paying!) job, it is now my turn to give in to the demands in the interest of the family-supporting paycheck. I'm good at my work, and I receive a great deal of affirmation for what I do. It can be easy for me to believe the lines I put out there for the world: "The kids are better off being home with Matt. He's the fun parent. I'm the 'let's clean the toilets for fun' kind of parent who worries more about folding laundry than getting out there in the yard." While there's truth in this, on days like today, when I am home with the kids, I realize I am as good at home as I am at work.

Matt's away with his parents for a few days, and I'm working from home in order to care for the kids and not blow all my vacation days. By noon, I had already managed to walk Kyra to school, accomplish some of that must-be-done work, arrange an afterschool visit from a friend of Kyra's (promising to bring home a neighbor's child, too!), dig into the homemade zucchini bread we made yesterday with lovable Lucas (frozen zucchini from last year's garden--can't wait for the growing season to begin!), dust and spot clean the house, finish the laundry, and go through all of Lucas's clothes, weeding out three bags for Freecycle. Had I managed to play with Lucas? Does it count if he played near me? You get the picture!

The same drive I bring to work appears when I am home, and long-lingering projects are accomplished in minutes. While there's different satisfaction in my work, there's something satisfying about creating a happy home for the kids, too. Though I am likely the parent who needs to set a timer to remember to get down on the floor and play for 20 minutes a day, there is a benefit to attending to the environment in which they play with such gusto and satisfaction.

Later in the day, as I meandered down the woodsy path from school with Kyra's friend's mom and the six kids we had between us, I realized there are other gifts I give to my children--I link them to the world. I bring friends into their lives. I'm fortunate--in every time period of my life, every home I've lived in, I've had a circle of close friends. Meeting people and engaging them is something I do with relative ease (hence some of the praise at work). Matt would be the first to admit that this is not his gift. Add to that the awkwardness of being the one dad in a sea of moms, and it's not surprising that the kids are mainly home with him rather than surrounded by friends and playmates. (My hat is off to him for one day taking Lucas to meet not one, but two moms and their kids at a nearby indoor playspace!) In recognizing my strengths, I remembered what fun it can be to be here. We played basketball outside in the yard. We dreamed with Kyra's friend about all the future times we'll play together. And even as I'm having that fun and dreaming aloud with her mom, I realize that it is not my season to be home. The fun we will share will not likely be on my watch. This week is an exception.

And now we've arrived back to that lottery ticket. I don't mind working. In fact, I think parents who work outside the home bring unique outlooks to parenting. Having a wider circle of meaning alleviates pressure for the kids. They are not my sole accomplishments--and perhaps not "accomplishments" at all, and because of this, I can revel in their individuality. I can enjoy them without needing them to somehow be something that states my meaning to the world. That is established in other times and other places. But a little bit less work would be good. More balance would bring joy, I suspect. And those choices are always linked to money--having enough, knowing how to get enough, and somehow surviving on enough.

At one point Lucas locked himself in our bedroom, and the door handle, perpetually threatening to break, finally did just break. There was no unlocking that door. As I soothed myself (more than him) with calming words, shuffling around for a screwdriver with which to remove the handle, I was reminded of the work it can be to be home. And perhaps if I have too many more "locked in the bedroom" moments with both kids home for three early release days, I might go running back to the office by the end of the week. At this moment, though, I'm wishing for just a little more time.... They are so precious to me.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

March 6

Until my father reminded me earlier this week, this date wasn't much on my mind. Some years it is fresh and vivid--this awful day when we learned my mother was dying--and other years, it is a kind of background noise or energy that doesn't break through to the surface. It was fifteen years ago that she died, April 6th, 1993, and in those early years, March 6th ushered in a host of memories: leaving my college roommate and close friend behind for what I presumed to be a weekend trip to Boston, moving the tag on my RA door card from "in" to "away for the day," and the long, uncertain drive to Boston with dear family friends. Some years the images would cascade in vivid succession as I tried to put one foot in front of the other, certain that this anniversary day was the worst day in my life.

This year, it feels different. The sun is shining, I was able to walk my smiling daughter to school, and though the news is full of the devastating reality that March 6th is becoming "the worst day in life" for many, many people around the world, it no longer seems to be mine....at least not this year. It has become a day for noticing--the frozen tracks of footprints in the mud on the wooded path to school, the fall leaves left unraked, visible once again in their clumps of matted brown. There are buds on the trees, too, and though snow is certainly going to fall once again, spring is clearly in the air. Blessings abound--I'm even trying to feel fortune in coming to work! Miracles appear at every turn, and even as I remember this day when earthly, bodily healing was denied my mother, I know I can look at the healing beyond, within, and all-around. There were miracles, even then, and I'm grateful to see them now.

Thursday, February 28, 2008


Kyra's playing basketball this winter, a great accomplishment for our six year old! She's played two nights thus far, and the change between night one and night two was astonishing. Anxiety was running high on night one--for the parents, at least! They had cancelled the K-1 girls' league, offering us the opportunity to play in a K-1 co-ed program. Snows were falling heavily that first night, and over half her team didn't show--she was the only girl. Feminist mama that I am, I was crestfallen. If the evening destroyed her hopes and interest, I was going to be furious! She soldiered on, though, demonstrating that being a great listener and learner is key for any organized sport at this age.

Shot after shot went "swoosh" through the net as they spent the first half hour on fundamentals. She put every suggestion into play, shifting from simply thrusting the ball toward the basket to a clear dominant hand shot, using her left hand as a guide. She paused, she concentrated, she listened, she focused, and she was rewarded. The ball was hitting her mark! But the half hour ended, and it was time to "scrimmage" with the other team--a not-so-descriptive word for the minor chaos that is young kids' basketball.

Given that there were no substitutes, Kyra was up and playing for the entire "game." The rules are simple and good: no stealing the ball, pass three times before taking a shot, give the other team time to clear down to the other end of the court, and so on. The coaches are zooming up and down with them, calling out suggestions, pausing the play to encourage them to spread out, share the ball, take the shot, etc. (I LOVE these coaches--they are accomplishing the impossible, in my mind.) Never before have I realized how much there is to remember: note where the ball is at all times, follow your "buddy" to get your guard arms in the air, dribble if the ball is in your hands, keep moving in the direction of your basket, on and on and on. She was exhausted, she was sweating, and she had run her little heart out, nervously picking at or biting her nails for much of the game. While she said she had had fun, she was clearly beat.

School vacation gave a week's reprieve, and this Tuesday we returned, this time through sleet and rain, to another night's basketball. More of her team had arrived--and she felt the designated expert because of the first night's experience. She was still excelling on the fundamentals, but now, when "game time" came around, her hands were high in the air--ALL THE TIME. It was lovely, and priceless. She would have run down the court with her hands in the air were it natural or comfortable. She was ready!

Given that more of the team was in attendance, they were able to use subs. She got a rest or two. She was included by her teammates in plans to set up plays. (Yes, even at 5 and 6 there are superstar players, already trying to set the pick and make their move!) And at the end, as she guzzled water at the drinking fountain, she looked up at me and said, "I LOVE IT IN THERE!"

We do, too, dear child! We do, too.

Monday, January 28, 2008


On any given day, I imagine the many posts I could write....living my life through the blogger's lens, I suppose. But given that I have work, and class, and writing, writing, writing in both, my posts rarely make it from my mind to my "pen" (err, laptop). Today will be no exception, but I wanted to share an image or two.

*My reading continues, though much more slowly with our return to real life. I grabbed "The Pot Luck Club" off the shelf at our church library, looking for something a little more entertaining and a little less thought-provoking than other books on my "must read" list. It was what I expected--a bit cheesy, a bit Christian novelish (not my usual genre, but there can be something comforting about fictional characters who pray!), and thoroughly engrossing by the time I came to the close. Whether or not I'll seek out the sequel remains to be seen, but I was amused, and there's an increasingly larger space in my life for amusement.

*I had a striking, wonderful dream a week or so ago. Of course the details have all faded between then and now, but the essence remains--Matt and I were given that chance I sometimes long for....to return to our earlier selves with all we know now and see if our decision to be together still holds. In this particular dream, it did--and vividly. We knew all that we know now. We stood holding in our hands all the questions, all the longings, all the wishes for both the life we have together and the unknown lives beyond, and we still chose one another. Sometimes dreams can be a beautiful gift to our wide awake selves. This one certainly was.

*Since our return from Florida, my skin is dry and itchy, itchy, itchy. Though I tried to quickly react with lotions, bath oils, more water, and so on, it was too little, too late. There is just no getting rid of this persistent, nagging itch from my head to my toes. It's in my way--not only am I distracted, but I want to be outside, I want to feel the fresh air, and I know a few walks out in the cold is part of my problem, so I primarily stay inside. Yet again I'm vowing to be more watchful next year--to not save lotion for when my skin feels dry, but instead to simply make it part of my routine. Does this sound like my prayer life? But of course! I wait for the "need," and then I wonder why God seems silent. Perhaps if prayer was part of my routine.... Well, you can fill in the rest.

So much to say, but a little boy is seeking a story or two, and given that I stayed out sick after a sleepless night (both kids were up and wandering about--argh!), I can finally respond and attend to him. Happy day....I know I plan to have one!

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Reading my way into the new year....

There is so much I could and should write about our time in FL: the spectacular celebration of my grandfather's life, complete with all the aunts, uncles, cousins, and counsins' children sharing stories, faith and music in his honor; a visit with my father near his favorite FL beach as the kids leapt, skipped and marched their way back and forth between the ocean and the handmade sand castle they optimistically created within reach of the incoming tide; my grandmother's surprise trip to the Emergency Room that resulted in a pacemaker and a new lease on life (She plans to start her own blog at 90 years old--how's that for embracing life and moving forward?). And should I write about the sunshine? But of course! There is something renewing and refreshing about a warm weather vacation in the midst of New England winters. It is a reminder that spring will come, shorts and short sleeves are around the corner, and we will once again swim and play outdoors. Truly, it is coming.

BUT, I'm not going to write about all of that (or have I already???). I want to begin writing about the books I'm reading....not reviews, not critiques; in fact, I plan to create little more than a list. What the list represents is important, though. I am notorious for saying, "I wish I had more time to read." I imagine myself with a life pre-work, pre-kids, pre-commitment in which I lounge by the pool all day with a book in hand, as though this was a life I once knew or one I'll ever have. Contained in the comment is a little bit of resentment about my life's commitments (which include demanding work, kids, classes, church, Sunday School teaching and board service, etc.), and a whole lot of inaccuracy about the reading I do or don't do. In fact, I read quite a bit. True, some of this is for courses I take. But I'm also known to squeeze in a pleasure book while writing that last paper, or grab a weekend to be reading near the kids as they are creating yet another city with their lego, block, and Little People friends. In fact, I am someone who does have time to read. And this year I'm determined to prove it!

Here's what has been part of this new year so far:

Into the Wild, Jon Krakauer: While Krakauer's book is the story of one individual's quest to escape civilization and challenge his skills and strength against and with nature, my reading put me in touch with a broader essence of masculinity. In telling the story of Chris McCandless, Krakauer describes his own youthful ventures to take on the odds, and I could see elements of Matt and many of the men I know. That the story of Chris McCandless ends in death does not diminish the universality of the quest to understand his own significance (or insignificance) in the midst of a natural environment that still contains many mysteries.

Passing for Thin: Losing Half My Weight and Finding Myself, Frances Kuffel: This is a book that grabbed me from the library shelves as I was wandering on one of those "time to write the paper--but let's see what I can have as a reward when I'm done" afternoons. For anyone who has lost weight, only to discover that the inside of herself has not necessarily caught up with the outside (or vice versa), this book will speak. To learn since from Frances Kuffel's blog that she continues to struggle with weight, size, food and self is to find empathy. There is a lifetime of learning that goes into reshaping one's sense of self, and her journey is a reminder that there is no single destination, but many points of temporary arrival.

Mama's Boy, Preacher's Son: A Memoir of Growing Up, Coming Out, and Changing America's Schools, Kevin Jennings: It doesn't take long to discover my favorite genre is memoir. I would read one a day if I could. (See, there I go again bemoaning the absence of time--perhaps I should strive for one a week!) Jennings' story is one of overcoming great odds (poverty, participation in racism, heterosexism and homophobia) to become a renowned, if unlikely, activist. I was moved to tears by the horrors he experienced (vowing yet again to protect my children with outrageous means, if necessary), by his willingness to participate personally and publicly in change, and by the story of his mother's unique and parallel transformation. When my teacher sister shared yet another story of children taunting another child on the playground with "You're gay!" without the slightest clue what it meant, I had this title in hand--what a gift.

Here If You Need Me: A True Story, Kate Braestrup: Yet again, a memoir! This is the story of a mother of four who tragically receives the news that her much loved spouse has been killed in a car accident while on duty as a state police officer. Her grief takes her through personally washing and dressing his body, being present to hers and her children's emotions, and weaving a new life that includes the pursuit of what had been her husband's call--to be ordained as a Unitarian Universalist pastor. The call becomes intimately her own, and the book is filled with the stories, images and insights that have come from her years as chaplain to the state game wardens of Maine. It is a lovely book, even tinged with the many inevitable tragedies that shape her life and her work. I savored each word. A few years ago Matt discovered (via NPR, I believe) the author Mike Perry, and quickly felt a kinship through Population 485: Meeting Your Neighbors One Siren at a Time. I loved this book as well, and appreciated that Here If You Need Me took me on a similar journey, but with explicitly stated spiritual questions and discoveries.

So what are you reading this year, and how can we celebrate the time we do have to read? Enjoy!