Thursday, December 31, 2009


: a sweet friend

My dear friend Mikkee will be celebrating her birthday tomorrow - and a new phase of her life. Next week, she's starting a new job in Washington, DC. I've known Mikkee for years, but our friendship has grown over the last year or two and while I'm happy and excited for her to start a new job in a new city, I will miss her.

So here's my celebration of who Mikkee is and what I've learned from our friendship:

Mikkee is a reader. In fact, she starts every year by re-reading two of her favorite series of books: Anne of Green Gables and Harry Potter. As you surely know by now, I am a reader as well. But it's rare that I re-read books. At Mikkee's suggestion, I re-read Anne of Green Gables this year and felt like I was seeing an old friend who hadn't changed at all over the years. Mikkee is not afraid to devote precious reading time to a well-loved series and her decision to re-read these books helps them take root in her heart. And if you're going to choose books to seed your heart with, Anne and Harry are great choices. They remind us that life is meant to be lived wholeheartedly and that friends help us, strengthen us and show us who we are.

Mikkee is single. I've valued my friendship with Mikkee for many reasons - we have a lot in common! But I love that our friendship has transcended our life stages. I love that I can talk with her about my children and she can share her current work project. It's natural for moms to develop friendships with other moms, but I have greatly valued a friendship that allowed me to be Shannon first and a mom second.

Mikkee is an introvert. (I said we have a lot in common.) Mikkee has helped me acknowledge and manage my needs as an introvert and has encouraged me to meet these needs without shame. She's also helped me see how a job that requires so much of her heart, soul and energy is exhausting, but fulfilling. And her example is food for thought as I think about what my future will look like.

Mikkee is a strong woman who uses her God-given gifts. She uses her organizational skills, her sweet spirit and her knowledge to do her job not just well, but with excellence. She knows her strengths and is not afraid to speak her mind, especially when speaking on behalf of others. Mikkee also affirms others in their gifts. A while back, she sent my daughter B a letter that affirmed B's one-of-a-kind style. I love that B's creativity emerges in every part of her life and it was great encouragement for her to have another adult validate this.

Mikkee has a sensitive heart. Mikkee hears and feels the needs of others and instead of letting that cripple or overwhelm her, she uses that sensitivity to labor and advocate for others. I think it would be easy for someone with a heart as tender as Mikkee's to be too soft to do her job well. Instead, that soft heart channels her gifts beautifully and shows me the example of how to use all of our gifts in harmony, instead of letting one gift override other, equally important, gifts.

Mikkee is wounded but healing. Both Mikkee and I have wounds from our childhood that have shaped the way we see ourselves as women. Her strength and honesty in facing these wounds head-on has helped me understand my own feelings and has removed a layer of shame that has always surrounded this part of my heart. I'll desperately miss being able to talk through these things with a friend who understands and doesn't wallow with me in the pain, but gives honest encouragement about how to move forward.

Mikkee is growing. I've watched Mikkee grow as a woman and a writer in the time that I've known her. And I have full confidence that this next stage of her life will see her continue to grow into who she is meant to be.

Mikkee, may 2010 bring abundant blessings, new friendships, success in work and time for you! I'll miss you!

Sunday, December 27, 2009


1 : to give a name to : call

On Christmas night, I gave each of my daughters a final gift: the gift of words. I started with each girl by asking her who had named her. Then we talked about how when J and I named her, we didn't even know her yet. (When I shared this with B, she said, "What else would you have named me now that you know me? How about Caroline? I like the name Caroline.")

I told them that now that I know them, I want to tell them things that I do know about them. I shared with the older girls that I think it's easy sometimes to forget who you are when you get older. I told them each that while I now know I'm a reader, I spent several years where I read hardly a book for pleasure. That's hard to believe given that I've read nearly 80 books this year, but it shows how little I listened to my own heart and how much I let myself be defined by those who didn't even know me. I told them that I will write these things down and put them in their Christmas stockings and add one trait each year.

It was especially important for me to use my words to affirm the many positive traits that I see in my daughters during Christmas. I'm sure I was encouraged at their age, but I remember the criticisms much more. I still feel like a failure around my parents and I wanted to have these quiet moments with each of my daughters to remind myself of who I am becoming. And one of the things I am becoming is a mother, a woman, a wife who uses words with knowledge of the power that they hold and in a way that builds up, encourages and instructs wisely. So this gift was as much for me as it was for them. I wanted to remind myself of who I am by reminding them of who they are.

If you're curious, their lists were:

Quick Learner

Good Eyes (she sees things others don't see)

Detail Oriented

I hope reminding my daughters of these traits each year will help them remember that they are strong even when they feel weak. I hope it will help them ignore those who will tell them they are ugly because they will know they are beautiful.

I know they will have their moments of doubt. But I hope the power of having these traits within them named aloud and called forth will stay with them through the storms that await.

Saturday, December 26, 2009


1 : small flat or slightly raised cakes

As I've mentioned, this Christmas season hasn't gone exactly as I would have liked. The tree went up on December 6th, more than a week post-Thanksgiving. The nightly Advent calendar didn't happen. My book of Christmas devotions went largely unread. A gingerbread house was never made. I knew I had to give myself some grace with the little things in order to get A to and from Nutcracker while retaining some semblance of family sanity. So it came as a huge blessing and a bit of a surprise to find that the Christmas I know and love was waiting for me on Christmas break.

Earlier this week, the girls and I hosted a Cookie Party. When A was 3, a friend invited her to a cookie party. I went with her and we decorated cookies with a few friends and their moms. Ever since, we've hosted our own cookie party. We've done it many different ways - one year we invited classmates from ballet class, another year we hosted it at their ballet school, last year it was a family affair with Scofields, Horns and Trusses in town from Alabama and Wisconsin. This year, each girl was allowed to invite three friends, so we had a house full of girls (and two boys).

The day before the party was busy. A was still recovering from The Nutcracker and her cold, so she spent a lot of the day reading and lounging in bed. I joined her for a few hours while B & K were at a party in order to finish a great book. This was a Christmas gift in and of itself, but it put me a bit behind in cookie preparation. Just before bed on Monday night, I finally threw together a sugar cookie dough and put it in the fridge to chill overnight.

When I got up Tuesday morning, I pulled the dough out and got to work while I drank my first cup of coffee. It wasn't long before K joined me. She picked her favorite cookie cutters and went to town, making star after star, Christmas tree after Christmas tree. B soon joined us, using multiple cookie cutters to make hearts with stars inside and stars with hearts inside. Leave it to B, my most creative daughter, to find her own way to make cookies. I loved having them in the kitchen with me, cutting the dough, sneaking a bite here and there, hanging out with me doing something I love to do. It made it that much sweeter to see them decorate their cookies later with friends.

Things only got better the next morning when I started melting chocolate for dipping pretzels. All three girls wanted in on the action and they quickly developed their own system of each doing a certain part of the job. Dipping and decorating the pretzels went so well that I figured they would all want a break while I worked on the next batch of cookies. So I let them watch a TV show while I got started. They all surprised me by joining me at the dining room table and rolling dough, leaving the TV blessedly unwatched.

And then their final cookie gift to me: Christmas Eve dawned with one very important cookie left to be made, along with my entire Christmas Eve menu. I was making a gumbo for the first time ever and was nervous, so I decided to start with the roux. Once that was done, I could get the gumbo base simmering and move on to cookie making and appetizer prepping. Unfortunately, the roux burnt.... and I was out of flour. So J left for the grocery store while I decided to go ahead and get going with the final batch of cookies.

The girls were playing quietly in their rooms when I started. I got the dough separated and lining the mini-muffin tins about the time J returned with more flour for my second attempt at a roux that was dark brown, but not burnt. My daughters came to the rescue. A was the first to join me, lining each pastry shell with pecans. B and K soon joined us, allowing me to give them instructions and say a quick prayer before heading back to the stove to stir up a roux.

I don't think my daughters know it, but their biggest and best gift to me this Christmas season was the way they joined me again and again in making cookies. I have such fond memories of baking cookies with my grandmother. We did it every year at Christmas, using the same recipes I made this season. I didn't have to cajole, beg or even ask the girls to help me. They helped because they wanted to. They helped because it was fun.

And I hope they will want to help me year after year because it makes my heart sing to bake alongside them, to roll out memories with the dough and pop them into our hearts to bake.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009


2 : a power or process of transforming something common into something special

Today I mixed together flour, sugar, a raw egg, vanilla and pecans. Then I rolled this dough around a Hershey's kiss and baked it. Like many of you, I was making Christmas cookies. But as I mixed, measured and baked it occurred to me that baking - and Christmas - are all about taking things that aren't especially exciting alone and putting them together to make something magical. I've often wondered as I baked a cake or made cookies who first thought to put these ingredients together. Who decided it would be a good idea to mix these items that taste OK apart and turn them into something delicious?

While I was mixing dough, another alchemical process was taking place in my kitchen. The eldest daughter held the melted chocolate and the middle daughter dipped the pretzels.

The youngest daughter sprinkled the crushed peppermints on top.

And three ordinary sisters were transformed into friends, co-workers, merry little Christmas elves.
So I think the real magic of Christmas is alchemy: the power of transforming something common into something special. Whether those common things are sisters, baking ingredients or a baby in a manger, it's all magical at Christmas.

Sunday, December 20, 2009


1 : the period beginning four Sundays before Christmas and observed by some Christians as a season of prayer and fasting
3 not capitalized : a coming into being or use

I've been thinking about Advent lately. Not just the season itself, but the term. Our family attends a church that doesn't make a big deal of Advent - there's no Advent wreath, no lighting of special candles, few Christmas carols sung. Each year, that kind of makes me sad. Once Thanksgiving has come and gone, I want all Christmas music, all the time. It lifts my spirits, it lightens my heart, it reminds me of what this season is about. And I could use a few reminders...

Sadly, this time of year is extra busy for our family. This is the second year that our daughter A has danced in Nashville Ballet's Nutcracker production. She loves it. She spends hours practicing for mere minutes on the stage. But she gets to dance in TPAC's Jackson Hall, she sees professional dancers up close and personal, she hangs out with other girls who share her passion for dance and she grows in her gift of dance. I've been trying to remember that these are important, things worthy of advent.

I was sharing with J a few nights ago that I've been a little sad lately that I haven't had the time or energy to focus as much on others as I would like during this season. I've been too busy shuttling children to and fro, keeping our family schedule straight and seeking to build rest into our day, our week, our month. I want to be able to focus family time and energy on giving to others - on adopting a family and buying their Christmas gifts, on cooking dinner for a neighbor's birthday, on meeting a need that I hear about because I actually have time to listen. J listened sympathetically and then gently reminded me that I am focusing on others - I'm focusing on my children during this season. (See why I love this guy?)

That conversation soothed my spirit. And it made me think about the fact that advent is not just about coming, but about becoming. Jesus didn't come here and take on human form for us to stay the same. Advent changed him and it should change us. Advent should be a time when we ponder the miracle of God made flesh and ponder how our flesh, our bone, our gifts reflect this God. But we don't always like to ponder this. It's a little scary, isn't it? Because if we actually seek to understand who we are made to be, we might have to leave safety, security and comfort behind. We might actually yearn to become someone who doesn't fear.

I long for that. I long to let go of my fear of what others think. I long to be comfortable and confident spending my advent pouring into my family and children, sowing seeds in their hearts, pruning and growing them into strong women. But all too often I find myself worried about what others must think. We've missed church a few times this month. We've all been exhausted or sick. Once we just needed a day to be home together. So what do I fear?

I fear other families judging our choice to let A dance in The Nutcracker. I fear B & K being envious of the time our family devotes to A's dancing (although we try very hard to make the season special for them as well and they have thus far shown only joy in seeing their sister dance). I fear failing them. I fear they won't remember Advent as anything special. But if I am testing my own heart and listening to who I am becoming this season, I should set fear aside and celebrate not just the arrival of a special season, but my children becoming more of who they are made to be while being mothered by a woman who is seeking to become who she was made to be.

As I write this post, A is finishing up her final performance. She's not feeling well. In fact, she's danced three times in the past two days with a sore throat that hurts so much it has made her cry. But she begged to dance. She didn't want to let her classmates down. She didn't want Nashville Ballet to have to get another dancer to replace her. She wanted, desperately wanted, to use her gift. And I look at her and feel ashamed that I am so hesitant to be who I am called to be. I find excuse after excuse not to write. I have a daughter who will push herself beyond what many 9 year olds could bear to use her gift. So how can I leave my gift to wither and die? What kind of example would that be?

Who are you thinking about this Advent? And perhaps more importantly, who are you becoming this Advent?

Monday, December 14, 2009


3 : something that has the effect of a filter (as by holding back elements or modifying the appearance of something)

A friend of mine e-mailed me the other day to say that if she had a blog, her topic would be how much her filter interferes with seeing people the way God intends. She went on to tell me about a specific incident with someone she views as inconsiderate and how she views everything through this filter. Because of her past experiences, even innocent actions are held back by the preconception that they are coming from someone who puts themselves first.

My friend is right that she sees people through filters. We all do. And I think my friend is a step or two ahead of most people because she realizes that she has filters. It's nearly impossible for us not to make assumptions about people based on our past interactions with them, other events in our lives, our fears, our dreams, our prejudices. I'm not saying it's right for us to see other people through a specific frame of reference that might, at times, be a faulty one. But I am saying it's neither right nor wrong. It's simply how we are.

And the people who scare me the most are the people who go through life believing they have no filters. The people who think that because they see someone as stupid or selfish or lazy, it must be true. These people are scary because they'll never change. They'll plow right through life and run right over people with their self-satisfied ignorance.

If we take the time to analyze what our own filters are, I think that's the first step towards seeing people for who they really are, not who we think they are. I'm not implying things will go easily from there. Even when we identify our preconceptions, we have to then determine whether they are misconceptions or not. My friend has legitimately been hurt by the person she views through a filter. What's challenging is determining when she is seeing this person realistically and when she's judging harshly. It's not an easy line to walk. But I think the coward's way out is to not examine ourselves too closely, for fear of what we might see.

Sunday, December 13, 2009


1 : to weigh in the mind : appraise (pondered their chances of success)
2 : to think about : reflect on (pondered the events of the day)

One of my favorite verses relating to the story of Jesus' birth is Luke 2:19. It comes near the end of the story: Mary and Joseph have traveled long distances for the census. They've struggled to find a place to sleep. Mary's given birth nearly alone, without her mother there, without women from her community, with only the company of a nervous, exhausted fiancee and some animals. She's surely beyond the point of exhaustion, overwhelmed and probably a little scared. So when some strange shepherds arrive to wax eloquent about the child she's just given birth to, Mary takes note. In fact, she does more than that. She stores up their words as treasures and ponders them in her heart.

I love this image of a mother creating a place in her heart for the words that others have of her child. And I want to do this with my own daughters. Yesterday was a day packed with dance from start to finish. We left our house at 7:30 for A to rehearse and then perform at a Christmas party. She had missed Friday night's final rehearsal with her class to dance in opening night of The Nutcracker, but she did a great job. When an acquaintance realized A was my daughter, she came over and said, "She is a beautiful dancer. A total natural." A few months earlier, the owner of a dance studio told me that A has a musicality that you can't teach, that it just comes from within her.

I know next to nothing about dance. I just know that A loves to do it, that she is radiant while doing it, that she lives and breathes dancing. So as her mom, I see these little nuggets from friends, acquaintances and near-strangers as treasures for me to store up and ponder in my heart. Sometimes it's difficult as the mom to really see my daughters for who they are. It's my job to train them, to empower them, to help them grow into the strong, beautiful women I see lurking in their hearts.

So I'm thankful when someone tells me that A has a gift for the thing she loves, when B's teacher tells me that she has a strong internal sense of right and wrong, when K's teacher laughs with me about the stories she tells. And I'm trying to store up these treasures and ponder them. I want to think on my daughters' gifts and encourage their use. I want treasure boxes for A, B and K in my heart and I want to pull these treasures out and show them to my daughters, affirming them in who they are when they doubt themselves.

Thursday, December 10, 2009


Clinton, Jr. 1930–Clint Eastwood American film actor & director

Yesterday, I heard an interview with Clint Eastwood and Morgan Freeman on Fresh Air. (It's been a good NPR week, by the way, with a story on Tuesday that prompted me to add two books to my to-read queue.) Whilst listening to Mr. Eastwood, I decided that I'd like to be just like him when I grow up. If you know me at all, you might find this a bit surprising. I'm not an actor of any sort, have never actually seen a Dirty Harry movie and have absolutely no desire to act in a movie, write a screenplay or direct a film. But I've heard actors talk about how different it is to act for a film Mr. Eastwood is directing. He doesn't say "Action!" or "Cut!" and a previous interviewee shared that it was easier to relax and be in character without an artificial start and stop. In yesterday's interview, Clint Eastwood told the story of why he does it this way:

When he was a young actor on Rawhide, the directors (often new each week) would get a scene ready, yell "Action!" and the horses would bolt, the actors would be startled, the scene would be wrecked. So he suggested that they choose another word to help both the horses and the actors know that the scene was starting.

What occurred to me as I listened to this story is that Clint Eastwood is an actor's director. He chooses the right actor for the role and lets them do their job. He creates an atmosphere conducive to that job and does what he can to assist with vision, when necessary. And I want to write that way.

I want to be a reader's writer. I want you to read words that I've chosen to do the job. I want to trust that my words will do their job. And most often, their job is to make you think, make you feel, make you pause for just a moment. I'm not trying to give you the answers (because I don't have them), but I do want you to read something I've written and say, "Yes! I know what she means. I feel that way, too."

The good news for me is that in order to be a reader's writer, I've got to read. I need to see what writer's make my heart ache with that familiar pain, what tunes resonate with my own experience, what images sear into my brain. And then, do the best I can, with the words I have. I'm no Clint Eastwood. But I take heart in the fact that he was in his 40s when he directed his first movie. Maybe there's hope for me that I can find the right words with the time that I have left.

Sunday, December 6, 2009


3 a : to make happy : please b : to gratify to the full : appease

My husband doesn't get a lot of vacation time - two weeks goes pretty fast with family stretched from Alabama to Wisconsin. So it was a special treat for him to take a vacation day on Friday. The girls had school and we were having a party on Saturday, so he picked this as a vacation day in part to help me with party prep and in part to give us some time alone. It's difficult to put into words how satisfying this day was to my soul, but as WordGirl, I'll give it a try...

Working Together - I won't lie, it was nice to have help cleaning the house, meeting with a contractor about a new fence and running errands. I often feel closest to J when we're working on a project together and Friday was especially nice because we accomplished a lot without assembling or moving any furniture, thereby avoiding frustration on my part and swearing on his.

Day Time Date - In the midst of errands, we had lunch together and lingered. We weren't paying a sitter, didn't have an appointment pressing up against our time together and there were no work projects hanging over our outing. I can't remember what we talked about, but it wasn't our children or the mundane activities of life. Actual adult conversation can be shockingly hard to come by, especially in the busy month of December.

A Glimpse of Our Future - I told J as we headed out for errands and lunch that it was so much fun to have a day together because it made me excited for the day (still 12+ years away) when K starts college and I have him all to myself again. I've heard lots of couples struggle with empty nesting but as much as I love my daughters, I look forward to it being just J and I again someday. The girls can visit as often as they'd like...

Who I Am With Him - J makes me feel good about myself. He laughs at my jokes, tells me I look good and enjoys my company as much as I enjoy his. I feel like a better, bolder Shannon after a bit of time alone with him and that was a nice bonus heading into a party where our house was filled with friends from all of the various facets of our life.

Thankfully, starting in 2010 J will have an extra week of vacation. I can't wait for another Date Day in the spring. I'm sure it will leave me as filled to overflowing as Friday did.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009


1 a : to get away

Sometimes I just want to get away. There's not a consistent prompt for my desire for escape. It's not that I hate my life (love it, in fact). But I do long to get away. And while that is an impossibility this time of year when taken literally, I have known for years that the cheapest, best, most exciting vacations lie between the covers of a book.

Earlier this week, I was somewhat weepy, mopey and out of sorts. I had an ache in the center of my chest and longed for a good emotional outpouring. And I knew just the book. It's the sixth book in a series that's been out for a while, but I had been saving it for just the right moment. You see, it's the kind of book I know I'm going to voraciously consume once I start it. This series is not high art, it's more Entertainment Weekly than The New Yorker. But I love the characters. I love the way they love each other and how the book just sucks me in and carries me along.

Unfortunately, my desire for this book hit on a Sunday night when the library (and all bookstores) were already closed. Monday was then filled with chores that needed doing after time away from home for Thanksgiving. So I didn't make it to the library to get a copy of the book. I tried. I called J and had him check to see if the branch library nearby had a copy. It didn't. And I couldn't make it to one of the branches that had the book before closing time. So I figured I'd wait another day.

J had other ideas. When I came home Monday night, dragging three tired girls behind me, the book was sitting on the dining room table. Not a library copy. My very own paperback copy.

To say that I was grateful doesn't quite cover it. I had tried to explain to J the ache I was feeling and my desire to assuage it with a book. He clearly heard me. And the beauty of being married to a reader is that he got it. He understood how the right book at the right time is better than an all expenses paid vacation to the Bahamas. I was so surprised, so touched that I cried as I thanked him.

And I've hardly put the book down since. I've read at night, in the car, while I eat my lunch, when I should be doing other things. I'm over 400 pages in (which still leaves over 1,000 to go with this book) and it is just the escape that I wanted and needed. And how blessed am I to have a husband who bought me the ticket for my escape?

Thursday, November 26, 2009


:the age of my Aunt Monica (or Aunt Monie, as we lovingly call her)

Last weekend, I went to the small town of Opp, Alabama to celebrate my aunt's 80th birthday. My gift to her was a list of 80 memories and things that I love about her. As I read the list aloud at her birthday dinner, I realized how small and, perhaps, insignificant many of these things may sound. But I took encouragement from the fact that many of the things I remember about Aunt Monie are the very things I fear my daughters totally take for granted - the home cooked meals, the from scratch cookies - all done with love, and therefore making a mark on my heart that I didn't even know was there. Here's my list for Aunt Monie:

  • The example she sets
  • Serving her church
  • Loving her community through food and prayer
  • Being a part of the fabric of her church's life
  • Teaching me to cook after Bekah was born
  • Chicken & dumplings
  • Homemade chicken stock
  • Making our favorite foods every time we visit
  • Chicken & rice
  • Oatmeal Cookies
  • Hashbrown casserole
  • Sweet potato casserole
  • Oriental salad
  • Opp peas
  • Cornbread (crispy around the edges, of course)
  • Sugar cookies for picky children
  • Cooking for my wedding reception
  • Sand Tarts
  • Cheese straws
  • Making clothes for my girls
  • Little red riding hood capes
  • ABC dresses
  • Wrap around dresses
  • Gingham fish dress
  • Gingham flower dress
  • Velveteen Christmas dresses
  • Seizing retirement as a great time in her life
  • Joy Club
  • Her love of books (may the Lord bless me with a retirement filled with reading!)
  • Traveling to new places
  • Lunches with her sister
  • Shopping with her sisters
  • Hospitality
  • Opening her home to friends and family
  • Keeping kid's toys under her TV long after her own children were gone
  • Opp Christmas
  • Kid's books hidden away for little readers who visit
  • Being a sister
  • Showing me what to expect as a mom of three daughters
  • Listening to her sisters
  • Ignoring her sisters
  • Telling her sisters what to do
  • Sister trips
  • Family values
  • Loving her family sacrificially
  • Going through high school with not just two, but three teenage boys
  • Taking such good care of Uncle Fred
  • The joy of grandmotherhood all over again with Sarah Kate
  • Photo albums full of family pictures
  • Being the family historian
  • Trips to Birmingham and back for treatments with never a word of complaint
  • Keeping every program, every newspaper clipping to document our lives
  • Loving me and my family
  • Snack bags for my girls for the long ride home
  • Letting my girls decorate her driveway with sidewalk chalk bodies
  • Helping me after Bekah was born
  • Coming up to see Anna in The Nutcracker
  • Treating my husband like one of the family
  • Disney placemats for fun at home
  • Visiting us in Nashville
  • Letting our family of five overtake her quiet home
  • Little girls sleeping on your floor
  • Traveling to Wisconsin to help us get ready for a wedding
  • Sister plus Shannon trip on the way home from Wisconsin
  • Happy Memories
  • Tins of cookies waiting
  • Chicken & rice after church on Sunday
  • Uncle Fred's books and hats - fascinating to the young Shannon
  • Sharing 70s jewelry for college dress-up parties
  • Braiding my hair and teaching me how to do it
  • Attending Bible Study with me when she's in Nashville
  • Creativity run amok
  • Painting
  • Sewing
  • Cooking
  • Decorating not just her house, but Deb's, Shannon's, whoever will listen
  • Taking and making time for her family
  • The lives she has impacted with her sweet spirit and example
  • The confidence of seeing her in heaven
  • A life lived to the fullest

J read my list and said with tears in his eyes, "I would like for someone to say these things about me when I'm 80." So my question for you on this Thanksgiving Day is, "How do you want to be remembered?" And are you living your life in an effort to leave fingerprints on the hearts of those you know and love?

Wednesday, November 18, 2009


1 : a design or representation made by various means (as painting, drawing, or photography)
2 a : a description so vivid or graphic as to suggest a mental image or give an accurate idea of something (the book gives a detailed picture of what is happening) b : a mental image

Some friends were talking today about how they feel about pictures. One has an extended family portrait scheduled over the Thanksgiving holidays and while she loves pictures of her kids, she doesn't like to be photographed herself. Another shared that she wants pictures taken of her because she envisions her own death and wants her children to be able to remember her. I've talked before about how I don't like photographs. They ruin my own memory. Because once I've seen the photographic evidence of an event, my own memory of it is, sadly, erased.

For example, I felt like I looked great at my brother-in-law's wedding two and a half years ago.... until I saw the photographs. A very capable and excellent photographer clearly showed that I looked terrible. I was laughing, talking or gesturing in every single photograph. This may have been partly due to the fact that my three children (and husband!) were also in the wedding. So I had a bit on my mind. But I'll now forever believe that I looked harried the entire wedding instead of sleek and sophisticated, which is more of what I was going for.

I was thinking today on my way home about my friend who wants photos of her taken so that her children can remember her and it occurred to me that a picture can never capture what I want my children to remember.

A picture can't show how I loved K this morning:
Me, from upstairs: "K, are you dressed for school?"
K: "No. I want you to rub my back."
Me: "Are you still in bed?" (thinking to myself, 'your sisters have been awake for nearly an hour!)
K: "Yes. Will you rub my back?"
Me, coming down the stairs: "Sure, honey."
And I rubbed her back while she laid in bed and enjoyed it. And we talked about the day that was coming and about school and about life. No picture can capture that.

A picture can't show what I am thinking and feeling as I watch A dance. It can't tell that I am amazed, astonished, captivated and proud that a daughter of mine can do what she does. She not only dances, she brings joy to others, she bares her soul in front of strangers. I can take a picture of her dancing, but it won't show her when I'm dead how much I loved watching her dance.

And a picture can't capture what I feel about B. A picture can't show the mixture of connection I feel to her, the inspiration I get from her, the push I feel from her to be a better me. If she's using all that she is and doing all that she does, can't I do more? But how would you take a picture of this? How could a still image of me with her ever convey how much I love her? It simply can't.

And these words can't either. But, to my mind, they come a bit closer.

Saturday, November 14, 2009


1 : to give assistance or support to (help a child with homework)

Yesterday, K brought home her folder with her schoolwork for the week in it. While I was in the kitchen, she pulled it out and was reviewing it on her own. When I came into the room, she showed one worksheet to me and said, "Mom, look at this 5. It's horrible. It's just horrible. I can't write 5's." First of all, I thought it was adorable that she used the word horrible to describe her handwriting - mine was and still is. I also found it endearing that she cared about her schoolwork. K is enjoying kindergarten just fine, but that's because she has a wonderfully kind and engaging teacher and is surrounded by 19 cool kids her age. From K's perspective, the least important part of school is the learning.

So I was encouraged that she was reviewing her work on her own and that she cared. I was also a tad bit dismayed that handwriting was the subject she chose to care about. I can't even really help her very much since #1) my handwriting, as mentioned, is horrible and #2) I'm left-handed and she is not. Luckily, this inadequacy on my part allowed someone else to step in and use their gifts.

Eight year old B to the rescue. She came into the room as K was lamenting her handwriting and she immediately grabbed a pencil to start helping her sister. After they had used all of the available space on the original worksheet practicing the numeral 5, B went to her room and came out with a handwriting workbook from her own first grade year.

The two sisters laid on the floor, side by side, working on handwriting. B came up with a new way for K to try writing it - she put dots that stood for several points along the 5 and had K connect them. With about a half hour of time together, K was noticeably better - and more confident! - about writing her 5's. In fact, B was such an enthusiastic teacher that I overheard her trying to teach K how to write the alphabet in cursive. I gently reminded her that her five year old sister was still learning to print the alphabet and perhaps we should make sure she could do that well before moving on to cursive (which B hasn't even officially been taught yet!).

So I find myself able, just for a moment, to be thankful for my inadequacies, my failures, the things I lack as a mother. Because it is those things that encouraged B to sit with her little sister and not just help her, not just teach her, but love her.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009


2 a : to appear in an impressively great or exaggerated form ed large> b : to take shape as an impending occurrence

A big parenting decision looms large right now. In Nashville (but apparently nowhere else in the world), middle school starts in fifth grade. So while I have one lovely year of all three children being at one school, it is only for one year. Because 4th grader A will head off to middle school next year. This is a big enough step, but when combined with the complexity of the Nashville's school (public or private, neighborhood or magnet, homeschool or traditional school), it's a daunting one as well.

In just a few minutes, I will join some friends to visit a few middle schools. I'm not sure exactly what I'm looking for...
  • children who look like her and don't look like her since I want a mix of both
  • teachers who are knowledgeable, but kind
  • clean hallways, clean classrooms
  • an old building with character plus modern amenities
  • a principal who cares more about the students than his/her career
  • a school that will challenge her academically without crushing her under the weight of hours of homework
  • an environment where A can keep growing into the person she was meant to be
It's a tall order, isn't it? Because I can't tell these things on the surface. We are blessed to have enough choices that I know A will end up in a school where there are enough desks for every child, where she will be given all of the books she needs, where she will be physically safe. But will she be emotionally safe? Will she be led in a positive direction by both teachers and peers?

And how, exactly, am I to divine all of these things? I really can't. So I'm praying that God will pull out his air traffic controller gear and turn on the runway lights to guide A's landing at the right school. Oh, and for peace for J and I as we attempt to navigate this maze of middle school.

Thursday, November 5, 2009


2 : to assist (one acting or reciting) by suggesting or saying the next words of something forgotten or imperfectly learned : cue

I visited a newly formed writing group earlier this week. An area church is opening their doors for open studio the first Tuesday of every month and some of their members were interested in starting a creative writing group. Another friend joined me because we both feel the need for more accountability in our writing - it's so easy, even when you want to write, to not do it. It's so much easier to do the laundry, wash the dishes, vacuum or even clean the bathrooms. That's easier, that's safer, that's productive. But it doesn't satisfy.

Since it was the first meeting of this group, we spent some time introducing ourselves and talking about scheduling. After getting these bits of business out of the way, we still had time on the clock, so we decided to use a writing prompt and spend some time actually writing. Our prompt was "Why do you write? " or "Why do you want to?" or some variation of that. Here are my thoughts on that.

Why write?
Because the words are there, waiting to escape to the page, circling in my head, running around my mind, lining up into neat little sentences.

Why write?
Because it helps me think and, frankly, it helps me live. It helps me capture those fleeting moments that are gone in the blink of an eye. Because my words capture them, pin them down time and keep the memories preserved for me.

Why write?
To use the gift. And now I am getting to it. I write because it is one of the things that God made me to do. I can fight that - oh, and I do - but there it is - a near mandate from my Creator to create, to capture with words the life that I live and the thoughts that I think.

So, why not write?
Fear, of course and more fear. Fear that keeps me paralyzed. Fear of failing - of trying and not succeeding. Fear that what might be a gift is not. Fear that I will let others down. Fear that I will let myself down. Fear that I will let God down. Fear that he made me and simply forgot to bestow any gifts.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009


3 a : something learned by study or experience (his years of travel had taught him valuable lessons) b : an instructive example (the lessons of history)

I've been thinking lately about what lessons I can learn from my daughters. Most often, I am trying to teach them - how to behave, how to live, how to be who they were made to be. But last Friday, I took A & K to a dance performance and while watching A dance, I realized that there are lessons they have mastered that still baffle me.

At this performance, my 9 year old danced and led with a quiet self-confidence that eludes many people three times her age. After just one rehearsal, A was comfortable leading seven other dancers in three performances and in dancing two solos. The night before, J asked me how I thought the performance would go - it wasn't the typical group A dances with and the girls were from three different dance classes and ranged in age from 5 to 10. I said I hoped it would go well and J said, "Well, A thinks it will go well." She was right. She stood there and did what God made her to do.

Just before they performed, an acquaintance leaned over and said to me, "A isn't shy, is she?"

"A?" I replied, puzzled.

"Oh, is that B?" she said, thinking she had mistaken one sister for the other.

"No, that's A and you're right, she's not shy when it comes to dancing."

So I think the lesson I can learn from my eldest daughter is to trust my gifts and the use of them. I want to, like A, do what I was made to do and I want to not question that so deeply, so frequently. A didn't argue when her teacher put her on the front row by herself to lead the other dancers. She didn't puff up with pride, either. She just stepped up and used her gift. And frankly, she glowed while using that gift. She reveled in it. And that is a lesson I need to learn.

More to come on lessons from B & K, who are equally wise in their own ways...

Sunday, November 1, 2009


: a device having an endless belt on which an individual walks or runs in place for exercise or physiological testing

I'd like to think of my life as a journey, with no steps wasted, even the hard, difficult, painful steps ultimately leading me to where I need to go. But I must admit that lately I've not felt like I'm on a journey. It's felt much more like a treadmill. I wake up in the morning, hop on the treadmill and run until it's time to go to bed. I feel busy, but I'm not really getting anywhere. Some of this is circumstantial, but some of it is choices I've made.

Last Thursday, for example, I chose to clean my house instead of writing. I actually had a few hours free and could easily have elected to spend the time with a fictional character, writing a personal essay or editing an article draft that has been gathering mental and literal dust. Instead, I straightened, cleaned, dusted, mopped and vacuumed. Now, I'm not saying that those things didn't need to be done (I'm not the most diligent of housekeepers, so they certainly needed doing), but I cleaned to avoid writing.

I mentioned to a wise friend the problems I've been having with making time to write and with the fear that grips me when I think about writing and she asked a great question: "You were doing great for a while. What changed?" It was a simple question, but not one I had asked myself. After thinking for a moment, I decided that what changed was partly beyond my control (lots of outside commitments that threw off my available time), but largely within my control. Essentially, I let circumstances derail my discipline and when that went, the fear of starting again set in.

So instead of being on a productive journey, I've been treading on an endless loop of housework, child-rearing, cooking, and other necessary tasks that aren't getting me anywhere. So I need to step off the treadmill, go back to the world of discipline and get back on track for a journey worth taking.

Saturday, October 24, 2009


: unswerving in allegiance

I cheated on my husband today.... with another football team. He knows I love football. He's known that for years. But I don't think he realized just how much I still love the Alabama Crimson Tide. They were, you see, my first football love.

If I met you, I'd tell you I'm a Vanderbilt fan. And I am. We have season football tickets for our entire family. We have Vandy gear that we all wear to the games - a cute black-and-gold striped dress for the five year old, fuschia t-shirts for the eight and nine year olds, a black & gold tee for me and VU golf shirts for the hubby. We go to every home game, watch every away game on TV. But, Vanderbilt, oh, Vanderbilt. They lose. They lose games they should win. And they do this with alarming regularity.

I start every game excited, fired up to be there. I clap. I scream. I jump up and down when we convert on third and long. And then my team puts me back in my seat. Because our quarterback throws a pass to the wide receiver's knees. Our running back runs straight into a heap of defenders for no gain. And, far too often, we simply self-destruct. Because this has been happening for years - I've been a Vandy fan for nearly two decades - I begin to disassociate when things get bad. I keep watching, but the emotion drains out of me. I half-expect the dropped passes, the near-fumbles, the three and outs. I watch, but my mind wanders. I find this makes the nearly inevitable loss easier to bear. Part of me has already accepted that we will lose, so it doesn't hurt quite as badly.

But today, before the pain-inducing Vanderbilt-South Carolina game came the Alabama-Tennessee game. And watching Alabama is a different story. This wasn't their best game. They didn't score at will, as I would have liked. In fact, Tennessee, the hated University of Tennessee, held the Tide to field goals when I wanted TDs. But, man, is Bama fun to watch. Mark Ingram is simply stunning. I've never seen someone get so many yards after contact. He's quick and he just carried Bama down the field on his shoulders more than once.

And here's where the cheating comes in. While watching Ingram & Co, I clapped, I yelled, I said "Rolllllll Tiiiiide Roll!" with my five year old. And during the painful last half of the last quarter when Tennessee showed signs of an upset, when they actually recovered that onside kick (!), I was beside myself. I yelled, "NO!" at the TV after the aforementioned onside kick. My daughters looked at me like I was a bit insane. My husband looked at me longingly. Because HE yells at the TV - but he does it during Vanderbilt games. That's when he said to me, "You're cheating on me. You're cheating on Vandy. You don't get this excited during their games!" In the heat of the moment, I wasn't sure he was right. And I couldn't stop to analyze it then - the game was on the line! But after Alabama hung on to block UT's field goal attempt and I could think straight again, I could see his point.

I love Vanderbilt. Seeing them win their first bowl game in a quarter of a century earlier this year was thrilling. But when the Vandy game started and my husband was pacing the floor, trying to help players tackle and yelling, I knew he was right. I am loyal to Alabama football. My heart races when I watch those crimson and white players march down the field. My blood boils when a team like Tennessee threatens to thwart what I think might be another national championship season. I am active when I watch an Alabama game and I care all the way through the game. There is no emotional disassociation going on.

So while I live Vanderbilt football, going to every home game, wearing the black and gold, indoctrinating my children to love Vandy and hate UT, I breathe Alabama football. It holds a special place in my heart, and likely always will.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009


1 : to set free from restraint, confinement, or servitude

The day after Artie the Monarch Butterfly emerged from his chrysalis, B set him free. She knew he needed to head to Mexico, as all monarchs do. But she wanted some of her friends to get to see him "live and in person," not just via a picture that I had e-mailed for her teacher to share with the class. So I picked up Artie in his butterfly tent and met B after school.

K was the first one to emerge from the building. She was excited to see Artie and immediately began calling friends over to see him. But that was nothing compared to when B walked out. Her face lit up when she saw me holding the butterfly tent and she called to her friends, "Come see Artie!" In this picture, one of B's friends is literally jumping up and down with excitement.

It wasn't long before children younger and older than B were hesitantly coming up to her and asking to see Artie. I gave her some time to show him off and asked a few times, "Has everyone seen him?" The librarian came over to see him. B took him up for the principal and teachers to see. She shared him with friends from last year's class, friends from this year's class and curious onlookers.

And then it was time to let him go. I went over to B, who was surrounded by children. I asked her one last time if she'd shown Artie to everyone that she wanted to. She agreed that she had. I told her I thought it was time to let him go and asked a few children to let me into the circle to help her unzip the top of the tent while holding it aloft.

When I went home to pick Artie up and bring him to school, it was obvious that his wings were ready and he was anxious to get going. While he spent the first 18 to 24 hours perched quietly and moving only occasionally, he was flapping around his tent consistently by the 36 hour mark. I expected him to bolt when Bekah opened the tent, so I had the camera ready.

Bekah unzipped the tent. Artie perched on the edge.

And he stayed there. In fact, the children were moving around more than he was.

So I reached out to him and he went onto my finger. He stayed there, seeming to take things in. And as Bekah moved over to get him onto her finger, he left. He circled up, circled again and was gone.

And Bekah was happy for him. There were no tears shed. She did exactly what Artie needed in the time he was with her. She trusted her instincts and fed him what he needed. She provided him with a safe place to live and cleaned out his home. She procured a bigger home for him, with the help of a kind and loving teacher. She watched and waited, never losing faith, while he stayed in his chrysalis for longer than we expected. She was, in fact, the mother I hope to be.

I want to give my children what they need, but not hover, not worry over the outcome. I want to do what I can to train them, shape them and love them. I want to trust that I know what is best for my daughters. And I want to not cry when I release them, but be thankful for the time I had with them.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009


1 : a high degree of gratification : joy; also : extreme satisfaction
2 : something that gives great pleasure (her performance was a delight)

Today was a wonderful day. It was the third day of my daughters' fall break, but the first day of their break that has been completely under our control - no meetings, no appointments, no responsibilities. So I decided we would visit Cheekwood. We've been before, but most often in the summer to see the Fairy Tale houses. After today, I've decided autumn is made for Cheekwood...

The weather was beautiful - a crisp, fall day that was warm in the sun, cool in the shade. The scarecrows were fabulous - scattered throughout the grounds, in a wide range of styles from funny to spooky to artsy. The grounds were gorgeous - and accessible - the girls roamed, ran, explored. And I delighted in it.

Many of my friends, given a day like today, would choose the Zoo as a place to kill three or four hours. Not me, I'll choose Cheekwood every time. We started with scarecrows, meandered to the herb garden, spent some time seeing the current art exhibit, sat in the sun for a picnic, traipsed around the ponds and ended with more scarecrows. It fed my soul to spend time in the sun, amongst all of this beauty with my daughters. And I was filled with delight - in them, in the day, in the experience.

It was a good reminder to take time to enjoy my daughters. I know they are growing and changing nearly every day. I see it with my own eyes. And I don't kid myself that in ten years my daughters will agree to spend a gorgeous day like today at Cheekwood with me. It was wonderful to not only have this time together, but to see it for what it was - a delight.

One of my favorite moments was near the end of our day as I watched the girls explore one of the ponds. A & B picked their way around while K was exploring elsewhere. But when K decided to join them and got stuck, they clambered back over to help her. It felt like I was watching them create their own little Terebithia, where they were the only inhabitants. Truly, a delight.

Friday, October 16, 2009


Today is the first day of fall break. Here's what I hope fall break will bring for us:

Breakfast (and lunch) in our pajamas
Fun Outings
Family Time
Hot chocolate
Art making
Cuddling under blankets
Shared TV (esp. So You Think You Can Dance recordings)
Friend Time
Craft Time
Cooking Together
Library Time
Hot Tea
We're well on our way if today is any indication, as we have done nearly all of these things in one day. It's just what we all needed... and I'm looking forward to having a lot more of it in the next ten days.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009


2 a : removal or lightening of something oppressive, painful, or distressing

Ahh, how things can change in twenty-four hours. Yesterday, I was mentally composing a post that could have been called "fear" or "disappointment." But today the post is "relief" because B's butterfly Artie emerged from his chrysalis today. I was not sure this would happen.

This time yesterday, the chrysalis looked dry, dark and decayed. Just this morning, I admitted to B that I was worried about Artie. Our conversation went something like this (inner thoughts italicized):

Me: "B, I'm a little worried about Artie." (How do I tell her Artie might not live to be a butterfly?)

B, as she climbs up on the stool to get a better look: "I think he's supposed to look that way. You can kind of see his antenna through the chrysalis. I'll ask Mrs. R about it at school today." (What does Mom know anyway? He's FINE.)

Me: "Well, OK." (At least I've planted the seed. Now when nothing happens, maybe she won't be as heartbroken.)

Today was day 15 in the chrysalis and the book we read said 5 to 15 days was a normal time frame. While I didn't come out and say it to B, I was contemplating how long we would let it go before offering to bury tiny Artie in the backyard. I was wondering how to explain that it was time to give up hope.

But when I went in the kitchen shortly after 9 this morning, there was a butterfly perched in its tent, beautiful, fully formed and alive. As usual, B was right to not give up hope and I was too quick to assume the worst.

I debated about whether to entitle this post JOY or RELIEF because both emotions flooded me when I saw Artie hanging there out of his cocoon. RELIEF won out because while I would have been disappointed if Artie hadn't made it, B would have been heartbroken. My immediate impulse was to dash to school, get B dismissed and bring her home to see Artie for herself. Quickly ruling that out, I next contemplated calling and asking to speak with her. I finally ended up going to the school and showing her pictures. She was excited, but she wasn't relieved. You see, she hadn't been worried in the first place.

I'm not sure what the lesson in all of this is. Maybe it's that transitions take longer than I want. Maybe it's that just when I think all is lost, I will emerge as something new. Maybe it's that I should trust the process a little more. B knew that we had done all we could do for Artie. She didn't keep a ticking clock in her head like I did. She just waited for her butterfly to come out. And he did. I couldn't be more relieved - that Artie made it and that my daughter's simple faith was rewarded.

Sunday, October 11, 2009


2 : full of activity : bustling

What Saturday, October 10 brought for our family:

9:00 - 11:00 - Ballet practice for A, S driving

9:00 - 10:30 - Theater for B, J driving, K accompanying

9:15 - 9:45 - Haircut for J, K accompanying

9:45 - 10:15 - J shows K some of the sights at Vanderbilt, including old dorms & the mail room

9:15 - 10:45 - Errands for S to Porter Paints, KMart, Fairytales

11:00 - 2:00 - Incorporate a bit of pain and suffering into the day by watching and/or listening to the Vanderbilt/Army football game

12:30 - 3:00 - Ballet performance for A, S accompanying

1:30 - 4:00 - Birthday party for B & K, J accompanying

4:00 - 5:45 - Family down time (shouldn't this comprise most of Saturday???)

6:00 - 8:00 - Family Dance at school

8:00 - 9:00 - J stays to clean-up for Dance, S puts girls to bed

9:01 - J & S collapse

So I'm feeling tired, how about you?

Friday, October 9, 2009


1 a : something material that may be perceived by the senses b : something that when viewed stirs a particular emotion (as pity)

I was an art history major in college and a feminist as well, so I've read many books and written many papers on how women are presented and perceived as objects. But only this morning did it really hit home for me what this means in my own psyche. I'll backtrack momentarily...

I've always been insecure about my body in general and my legs specifically. While I would have been a big hit in the Renaissance, not so much today. I have curves. No matter how much I work out, I will never look like my daughter A, who is both pre-pubescent and a dancer. Yet I see her in a pair of jeans and think, "I want to look like that!"

Since I don't look like her (and didn't even at her age), I rarely wear pants. I'm more comfortable in skirts and dresses and they fit me better. But one day last week, I wore leggings, a flowy top and black boots. The outfit was very comfortable and I was comfortable in it - as long as I didn't look in the mirror and see my thighs staring back at me. I mentioned this to my husband when he complimented me on the way I looked. He responded, "You have great legs. And they feel great wrapped around me!" (Sorry if you're blushing, but this is important to my point.) I honestly didn't give his comment that much thought. I internalized his response as, "You look good, honey. Don't worry about your legs."

This morning the topic came up again and I had a near epiphany as I realized that the disconnect between his statement and my feelings was that I think of my own body as an object. J tried to reassure me by reminding me that my legs are able to do great things (not just in bed, but while running and in daily life). But I don't judge my legs or any other part of my body based on what it can do. I judge it based on how it looks. I don't know if you can comprehend how profoundly sad this is to me.

This body has carried and given birth to three daughters, yet I completely discount anything it is capable of, always concentrating on how it looks. How heartbreaking. I've tried to change my perspective. I've had internal conversations (often while exercising) about how strong I am and how much my body can do. But when you get right down to it, I think my body is only here to be seen.

So how, how, how do I teach my daughters to revel in all their bodies are capable of? How do I help them enjoy the way they look and play with different styles, different hairdos but still keep that in the proper perspective? Am I even capable of teaching them the proper perspective now that I realize my own viewpoint is warped beyond belief?

Thursday, October 8, 2009


3 a : a state of utter confusion b : a confused mass or mixture

My house has been in a state of chaos for the past three weeks. Three weeks ago today, the ceiling in our kitchen nook crashed to the ground. I was upstairs at the time and as I dashed down to see what had just happened, I was thinking, "Did my refrigerator just fall through the floor to the basement?" That's how loud it was. No, the fridge was still standing. It was just covered with plaster and dirt. There were things to be thankful for in the midst of this: my daughters were at school when the ceiling fell in, no one was injured and I was home to clean up the gargantuan mess right away. Still... it was the beginning of a period of chaos.

A contractor came the next day to stabilize the ceiling and then came back a few days later to demolish the rest of the ceiling and hang new drywall there. While he was here, we had him take care of a few other small things around our house. As with many older homes, small jobs turned in to large ones. Some things went off without a hitch (a light fixture with questionable wiring turned out to be just the fixture, not the wiring), others not so much...

In addition to having a kitchen covered with debris, then drywall dust, we had to have a new ceiling put up in the living room after discovering that the plaster was too brittle to be repaired. This required that our living room furniture reside in the dining room for 5 days. By Monday night, when everything was finished, I was exhausted.

As I put A to bed, she said to me, "Mommy, are you stressed?"
"Yes, I am. It's hard for me when our house is a mess, honey."
"Yeah, you like things neat and orderly, don't you?"

She's right. I do like things neat and orderly. Even so, I am not a neat freak. I don't mind a certain amount of clutter - we do actually live here and we have three children who seem to bring home a ream of paper each week. But not being able to eat as a family, having to clean dust from every conceivable surface and having people in my house off and on for a week was terribly exhausting. Even now, I really just want to crawl into bed and hide. But this is the first day I've had to write since the ceiling fell in three weeks ago, so I feel obligated to use my time more wisely. The question is whether I am capable of that.

It's fascinating to me that the definition of chaos is so closely linked to confusion because the external chaos of our home has left my mind a muddled mess. My soul is in turmoil and I feel incapable of rational, much less creative, thought. But if I don't try to get my mind and heart quiet again, chaos will continue to reign. So, I'll close this post, enjoy the quiet house and try to write. And I will not contemplate renovating our kitchen. Because if minor home repairs leave me this depleted, I'll be a puddle on the floor by the time I have a new kitchen...

Thursday, October 1, 2009


:food for monarch caterpillars

The caterpillar that B found only ate one type of leaf: milkweed. How B sensed this, I will never know. But when she brought him home from a yard down the street, she brought a few leaves of milkweed. She placed these leaves in a jar. When he finished them, I suggested a few leaves from the trees in our yard because I didn't want her to continue to scavenge leaves from a neighbor. She acquiesced, but said, "I think he might only eat the leaves he was on when I found him." We quickly found out she was right. Artie wouldn't touch maple or oak leaves. So B went down the street for more milkweed and Artie chowed down - eating two or three leaves daily, which is a lot considering he was smaller than my pinkie.

What I found most interesting about the monarch caterpillar's predilection for milkweed is that the leaf is poisonous to other creatures. Artie knew what he could and couldn't eat. He knew exactly what he needed to consume to turn into a monarch butterfly instead of a monarch caterpillar. It didn't matter to him that it was a weed. He didn't decide he needed a more gourmet diet of arugula, spinach or wilted greens. He knew what he needed to do and did it.

So I've been thinking about what I need that might be poisonous (OK, maybe just distasteful) to others and whether I am swayed by what others need instead of listening to my own mind, my own body, my own soul.

One thing that I need more than many people is solitude. I have done a terrible job of protecting my time and therefore protecting my energy. When I spend a lot of time around other people, I am drained, depleted and exhausted. I know this about myself. But I feel pressure to volunteer at school, at church, at Rejoice. For things both important and unimportant to me. I am a little better at saying NO than I used to be, but my guilt over saying no has increased this year because, for the first time in three years, I am again unemployed. While I am enjoying not working for pay, I feel a self-imposed pressure to exhibit productivity. It was easier to say no to helping during a school science project when I had to work (even at my low-paying, part-time, non-profit job). It's harder to say, "I can't. I need to stay home that day." Or, simply, "I can't."

What else do I need that might not suit other creatures? I need books. Reading revives me, rejuvenates me, feeds me. And if you're spending three hours each day volunteering, there's not much time left to read after dinner, laundry and cleaning.

I also need order, not chaos. This has been hard to come by as we've had a contractor in and out, on an irregular schedule, repairing ceilings, hanging drywall, fixing doorknobs. I want my house straight, if not spotlessly clean. And I want it empty of anyone but me. As I write this, two men are downstairs hanging drywall on my living room ceiling. It needs to be done. I'll be glad when it's done. But I really want the quiet of my own home right now and I'm still several days away from having that.

Finally, I need to write. I almost closed this post without mentioning this need. It is hard to write when I'm over-stimulated, under-read and surrounded by chaos. So I have been leaving this need mostly untended, in spite of the progress that I made last week on two articles. In spite of the fact that I need to share these two articles tomorrow. I tell myself that this need is my least important need, but maybe that's just not true. Maybe I could cope better with these other things if I would write.

I guess the unanswered question in all of this is whether filling these needs will turn me from a caterpillar into a butterfly... or even get me started down that road.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009


1 a : a pupa of a butterfly; broadly : an insect pupa b : the enclosing case or covering of a pupa
2 : a protecting covering : a sheltered state or stage of being or growth

Last Wednesday, B and a friend found a caterpillar. This caterpillar was different from the ones normally populating our yard in the spring. This one, B claimed, would turn into an actual butterfly. The girl has good instincts. Turns out she was right. She fed the caterpillar leaves from the plant she found him on and discovered that these were the only kind he would eat. She gave him a name (Artie), took him to school, looked him up online, carried him with her on a sleepover and cleaned his jar regularly. And Artie has rewarded her efforts by attaching his chrysalis to the lid of the jar so that we can watch him emerge as butterfly.

B's 2nd grade teacher from last year kindly shared her butterfly tent, which is hanging from the ceiling in our sun room so that Artie doesn't get jostled loose from his connection to the lid. I've already learned a lot from this guy and B's care of him (more to follow on that), but today I've been thinking about his time in the chrysalis.

I'd love to wind a net around myself and curl up for ten days. I would love the silence, the lack of motion, the lack of stimuli. I'd especially love to emerge as a new me at the end of those ten days...

I have been guilty of over-scheduling myself recently. Just this morning, I backed out of chaperoning a field trip for B on Thursday because without that day free, I would have two straight weeks of some commitment every day. That's just too much for me. I feel like an over-stimulated infant. Like the caterpillar, who ate everything in sight before going into his chrysalis, I have been allowing far too many inputs to worm their way into my brain. So I need to follow up my gorging on interaction with a bit of time alone.

And what would I do if I could find a chrysalis? I would bring along a good book, a well-weighted pen and a journal. I would read and write. Then write and read. Those are, after all, the only ways I know to encourage a new me.

Thursday, September 24, 2009


1. Pushy, obnoxious, crazy mothers who force their kids to act, model, or enter beauty contests, usually turning them into emotionally scarred adults who hate their parents.
2. Something I never want to be.

A auditioned for Nashville Ballet's Nutcracker last Sunday. As she was lined up to leave the waiting room and go into her audition, I realized she still had her skirt on. It was a below knee ballet skirt that she wore when we left home because we were going to church beforehand. When she put it on, we both intended that she would take it off before the audition.

But there she was, lined up amongst 20 other little girls, about to walk out the door. Should I call out to her? Stride across the room and ask her if she wanted to leave her skirt with me? Or just let her go? Would they tell her to remove the skirt if it interfered with them seeing her dance? Would it make A more nervous for me to interrupt her just before she headed into the audition? She had done such a good job of keeping herself calm during the hour between registration and audition. Would it throw her for me to dash across the room to her side?

I'll admit I wasn't thinking solely about A. I also didn't want to be one of those moms. You know the kind. Living vicariously through their daughters, primping their hair, reminding them of their best angles, pushing them to do their best and then some.

I would never have chosen dance as something for my daughter to love. I thought it encouraged an unhealthy body image. I was a little scared of the other parents (still am, honestly). And a lot of dances that children are taught are just flat-out inappropriate for young girls.

But A loves to dance. Loves it, loves it, loves it. And her body was made to do it. She came home from a class last week so proud that she could put her forehead to her calves without bending her legs. (Give that a try at home, folks.) I'm not sure how she could be so graceful, and genetically descended from me. Yet she is.

I want her to use the gift she has. But I don't want to push her. I want dance to be joyous, fun and energizing for her. I want her to do it because she loves it, not ever because she thinks we want her to do it.

So instead of making her stretch before her audition, I let her read. Instead of dashing across that room to tell her to take her skirt off, I let her go. I want her to be what she wants to be, even if that means she's a dancer. And I'll just be her mom, instead of a stage mom.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The Fear

The following post is a continuation of a fiction story that has been posted in installments on WordGirl. If you are interested in reading the story up until this point, click here.

I wake the next morning to find breakfast outside the door. The tea is somehow still warm and savoring it helps me shake off the vestiges of sleep. As I settle in to eat, my eyes fall on the clean white paper and pen awaiting me.

Sighing aloud at my stubbornness, I ponder whether I should be more motivated by not doing as Irene suggests or whether I should just do as my heart says and write.

Picking up the pen, I try to clear my mind of Irene’s suggestions as to what to write. What do I have to say? What do I want to remember about the journey so far? What do I want to forget? Maybe that’s the place to start.

Thinking back to walking out of those first four rooms, I hardly feel like the same person. Each step along the way has changed me. But a constant companion has been fear. Sure, I walked through that heavy door, leaving my fears and exposed hopes there, but I didn’t really leave them all behind. Maybe I just bundled some of them up, leaving a token few at the threshold and shoved them into a backpack that weighs me down, slows me down, keeps me down.

“So let’s empty the backpack onto paper,” I think.

Writing “Fears” in bold letters at the top of the page, I pause. What are the fears I carry around? I feel their presence, I know they are there. They are intimately familiar, almost a part of me. But I don’t ever examine them closely. If anything, when one pops up, I shove it deeper into the backpack and pretend it isn’t there. Closing my eyes, I reach inside myself for a fear.

Cradling it in both hands, I feel the weight of it and recognize it as one I have carried for a long time. Its familiarity is oddly comforting. I open my eyes to see the fear of failure staring me in the face. Failure looks up at me brazenly, unflinching beneath my gaze. Its reds and yellows scream caution and its blurred edges make it difficult to see exactly where it starts and stops. I find it hot, drawing my hand back quickly after a tentative touch. The edges are covered with tiny, spiky tentacles and its covering is carapace. Reaching underneath, I find it surprisingly soft and discover I can gently cradle it.

I put it on the table, realizing as I do so that this is a burden I will have to put down many times before it stays away. Even as I close my eyes to examine the next fear, I feel failure begin to inch back onto me. I thrust it away mentally and try to examine the slippery fear I now hold.

It feels slick, gelatinous, shifting in my hands. As I try to edge around its borders with my fingers, it seems to change beneath my hands. I open my eyes and get a quick glimpse of the fear of exposure before it disappears before my eyes.

Surprised at what I’ve found thus far, I once again close my eyes and picture the heavy backpack that has been with me through crevices, canyons and fire. The next fear that I cradle makes no attempt to flee. It sits, heavy and solid, in my hands, roughly the shape of a potato, but so heavy I can barely lift it. Blinking back tears, I see this is the fear that I am unlovable. The fear that at the end of this journey, or any journey, there will be no one waiting, no one who cares whether I make it or not.

I look at my large piece of paper with three small words on it and wonder how they can take up so little space on the paper, but feel so large on my back and in my heart.

And now what? I can't simply banish these fears. So what do I do with them now that I've named them? If nothing else, I now know what I carry around with me. So the next time failure bursts in my mind, flowing through my veins and my vision, I will know it for the intruder that it is. Because as much as these and other fears feel like a part of me, they aren't. I have, for one reason or another, chosen them. Maybe others gave me these fears to carry - either to spread their own burden around or to hobble me on my path. But I was the one who willingly fed the fear, watered it, let it take root and grow. And now it is not so easy to just put the fear aside. Now, I need to chip away at the fear bit by bit until it is gone.

Wanting a symbol of my resolve to fight fear, I pause to think about how to do this. How do I get past failure's spikes? How do I penetrate exposure's rubbery covering? What do I do to or with unlovability's density? Feeling the impossibility of my task bear down on me, I want to get up from the desk and retreat to the bed. I fight this urge, knowing I must do some small thing to fight back.

I use both hands to drag my fear that I am unlovable closer. Its smooth, cool surface seems impenetrable, but I nevertheless reach for my pen. Scratching lines so faint they can't be seen, I write J's name on the rock. I pause, then add the names of A, B and K. While they may love me only in the innocent way children take parents for granted, they do love me. I consider writing my own name on the rock's surface, but know this would not take away the fear's power but add to it. Maybe eventually I can confidently scrawl my signature as testimony that I am loved, but not yet.

I look at the rock. It sits there implacable, unmoved by my coarse scratchings. Needing a break from this thankless task, I stand and stride from the room, deliberately leaving my backpack and its contents behind.