Saturday, December 24, 2011

Bourbon Slush and Christmas Eve

If you're a procrastinator like me, Christmas Eve is generally consumed with putting together Playmobil castles that have 648 small pieces, and finding the stocking stuffers that I've hidden so cleverly all over my bedroom that I can't actually locate any of them.

This is the recipe to make all of that effort tolerable, even faintly amusing.  Promise

I present Ye Olde Family Recipe for Bourbon Slush:  going ahead and posting it here for posterity.  Because my great grandchildren are *totally* getting a copy of my blog in the family archives. Ha.


BOURBON SLUSH
2 cups boiling water
4 regular-size tea bags
1 1/2 cups sugar
6 cups water
2 cups bourbon
(1) 12 oz can frozen orange juice  thawed and undiluted
(1) 12 oz can frozen lemonade, thawed and undiluted
lemon-lime soda, chilled
 
Garnishes"lemon rind curls, maraschino cherries
 
Pour boiling water over tea bags;cover and let stand 5 minutes.   
Remove tea bags, squeezing gently; add sugar, stirring until it  
dissolves.  Stir in 6 cups water and next 3 ingredients.  Cover and  
freeze at least 8 hours.  To serve, spoon 1/2 cup bourbon  mixture  
into each glass, add 1/2 cup soda to each.  Garnish, if desired.
 
Yield: 6 quarts
 





Friday, December 23, 2011

The Light Will Always Come

I stand at my kitchen window, these dark December mornings, and I'm astonished by the sunrises of winter. 

Blackness - complete blackness - imperceptibly gives way to black silhouettes against pink, orange, purple.  The entire world is reduced to two dimensions - all is either dark or light.

Watching the light arrive, in my quiet kitchen before anyone has stirred, memories surface: watching suns rise after all-nighters in college, after pacing the floors with wailing newborns.

Winter Sunrise

It is a benediction, every morning:  the end of darkness, the return of the light.  A benediction that promises us daily that no matter how dark, no matter how long the night has been, the sun returns to shine on every living thing - returns to vanquish every last shadow. To make us fully three-dimensional.

At the winter's solstice, where we welcome the gradual (maybe painfully slow, some days) return of the sun to our lives, we can receive that benediction every single morning:  the Light will always return.

With that, I will leave you with a beautiful quote from Gunilla Norris: 
In our lives, we sometimes find ourselves in what feels like our darkest days - days of trouble and loss when our spirits are overwhelmed.  It's important then to remember that our inner light is still there though we may not be able to feel it. Given time, our spirits will lighten bit by bit the way more daylight comes back bit by bit with each day.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

November's Gifts


In November, at winter's gate, the stars are brittle. The sun is a sometimes friend. And the world has tucked her children in, with a kiss on their heads, till spring.


Funny, that I spent all of October blogging about Stillness, when in some ways November is the stillest month of all.

November is the month in which our world prepares itself for the coming winter.  Even in the warmer parts of the world, autumn is finally surrendering to the inevitable chill.  (You Southern Hempisphere folks? Well.  It is a stillness in readiness for explosion of Summer weather, right?? Different, but the cusp of transition still fills us with suspense, methinks.)

I sit here at my kitchen table and watch rain streaking down window panes, watch the last of the leaves swirl past, one last wild ride before ending their days in winter's compost heap.

Sopping, soaking rain is our gift this November day.  If the 'world is tucking her children in' in November, then the weather today is the children getting their last drink of water, staying for one last minute the turning out of lights.

Most of us here in the States aren't registering the world being tucked in for the winter - we are focused on cranberry sauce macerating, stuffing ingredients, and perhaps anticipating long drives ahead.

And yet these busy preoccupied times are the very best moments in which to take a moment of Still.  To register how quickly the world outside changes, how suspenseful the natural world is, ready to head into the next season.

This Thanksgiving holiday, please, take the time to be thankful for your family, for your warm house, for your Thanksgiving meal.  But here's a little challenge for you:  find also the time to stand quietly at a window, and be thankful for the leaves that swirl past.  Be thankful for the dying grass, for the soaking rains.

Take a moment to be thankful for the profound gift of Stillness in the natural world.  It has the potential to teach us everything.




Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Attempts to Thaw

Not many words.

Every day I look at this file on my computer, the file that's supposed to be turning into my novel, and I see not many words at all.

I look at this poor old blog, and see not many words at all. None, in fact, since the beginning of the month.

The only things I post on Twitter are my Instagram photos, and even my favorite geek hangout Facebook has been a quiet place for me recently - the Instagram photos get posted there too, and maybe a few comments on friends' posts that amuse me.

What happened to the optimism, the rush of energy to write more, to write longer, to CREATE?  What happened to that heart-gut certainty that a writing life will be the life that says to me daily, Here is where authentic is. Yes. Do this.  You're on the Right Path.

Maybe that deep gut certainty is still there.  But the life I'm living is somehow letting the other voices weigh in louder.  The inner critic (mine) is merciless, but also I hear the [imagined] Others that misunderstand, that deliberately misinterpret, that judge my humble words as not close to good enough.

Down at frozen pond

It's the freezing of a pond - at the outer edges the words freeze as I try to weave them into fictions of people leading hard, mysterious lives.  That ice hardens and spreads as I become exhausted even thinking about a blog post, and have 702 excuses reasons regarding other things that must be prioritized. As the freezing solidifies, it reaches the odd inner narrator of mine that turns my silly days into status updates or Tweets or captions of snapshots on my phone.  Before long, I stand marooned in the middle of the ice, unsure of how to get back to shore, unsure how to effect a thaw.

I am scared, actually, by how often that freeze happens.  It's just a long and cold winter in my creative life right now. I let those voices shout out loud over the still small voice of authenticity.  The warm voice gently murmuring create, Kirsten, create. 

Maybe today make it a quick status update.  Maybe tomorrow it can be another blog post. 

The only, the only way to the thaw is by breathing deep the warm air of creativity.   To Just Write.







Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Well.

Well crap on a cracker.

Here I went giving y'all a suspenseful buildup for The Big Reveal today, and pfffft.

Life went & happened instead.  You probably don't want to hear about the death rattle in my lungs from all the winter camping this past weekend [cue emergency call to new doctor o' mine].

Nor do you want to hear about the Careful and Quirky Contractor Man who needed to talk to me 46 times today about the stone pillars in front of my house which apparently have had no foundation for almost 100 years.  [Cue emergency call to insurance adjuster.] 

yep, those stone pillars you see in the back there
 Wanna hear about delivering a forgotten yoga mat to school, only to hear that my lil' yogi decided to skip it today and went home on the bus? [Cue mad calls for the 7 & unders to pile into van; get out at school; pile back into van in time to get Ms 9 off the bus.]

Blah blah blah.

We all got crazy busy lives, right?

I'll give you The Little Reveal, tonight, instead:  I've got a new project.  I am blindly feeling my way towards life as a writer, and unsure even about what that looks like.  But the darkest corners of my heart, and the lightest tippy toesiest part of my brain are in agreement:  I have to Just Write.

So I will.  In November I am doing NaNoWriMo, which for the uninitiated stands for National Novel Writing Month.  What?!? say you A novel?  Surely she's only built up to half a column's worth at best!  Well.  Then I'll spend 30 days writing half columns of purple prose if I have to.  But it's 50,000 words or bust. (If any of you out there are as crazy as me, be my writing buddy - my name is NilsenLife.)

I made the major commitment to a weekend away - by myself. Three days of writing with people I know hardly at all, but who've promised to make me write for 72 hours straight.  (Kinda. With a little hot-tubbing thrown in.)

And then, I will Just Write. 

*************

I never fail to be inspired by Heather and her blog, and the people who connect through it.  She started Just Write, and she has encouraged me to go out there and do my writing thang more times than I can count.  I am so grateful.   Here we go peeps!



Monday, October 31, 2011

Stillness {Day 31 and...30, 29, & 28. Ahem}: What Happens after Stillness?



When I started this 31 Days project, I promised myself I wouldn't beat myself up.  Wouldn't give myself a load of guilt-laden grief over short posts, over half-baked ideas, or posts without cool photos.

Lucky I promised that, because I did indeed serve up a fair few of those kind of posts.  And yes, I did just plain fail to post for the last few days of the month.  [Ed note: To be fair, I tried.  Zipped tight into my mummy sleeping bag, cabin camping in a freezing rainstorm, I tried tapping out a post from my iPhone.  Stupid Blogger lost it THREE TIMES.  More on Stupid Blogger tomorrow.]

There were a few good ones in there too, posts that made me very happy to write.  This one, on parenting, was one of my favorites.  Funnily enough (some would argue for synchronicity here) this post, a sort of companion piece to my favorite, was far & away the most-read piece, with more than four times the number of page views of any of the other Stillness posts.

It seems that finding stillness whilst parenting is a giant challenge to all of us, and all we can do is be grateful for the moments when we find both the joy and the Still at the same time.  That - that - is the magic of raising kids.

But this post too was a big hit with y'all - a post considering what to do when the smog of life settles right into your brain and you can't clear it.  I talked about just going out and clearing a tiny corner of your world -ordering, and stilling, a small space for you.  Baby steps, folks, is all I'm asking.  Even those tiny steps will inch you closer and closer to places where you find Stillness more often, and more easily.

Here is the BIG QUESTION, though, the one that's been niggling at me all along each of these 31 Days.  With all this Stillness, what happens to moving forward?  To planning ahead?

I'm worried that it's easy to claim you are searching for Stillness when actually you are hiding from things. Pretending to live in the zen moment when in fact you are just burying your head in the sand about the bills piling up on the desk next to you.

So here is where my Big Idea gets its moment in the sun:

courtesy of Pinterest
I think in our everyday lives, in this crazy 21st century world, it is so much easier to let go.  So much easier to move on to the next thing, the next app, the next gadget, the next screen.  This is why I felt there were at least 31 Things to say about Stillness.

But yes, there must be some letting go as well.  Some willingness to look forward, instead of just in The Moment, if only to make consciously living a life of peace possible, instead of lurching from one crisis to the next.  (Not that I know anyone who lives like that.)

Tomorrow, TOMORROW:  I want you to come back & visit here, because I've got some Big Ol' News, and I can't wait to share it with you.  Big News about what I've decided to do after this 31 Days, and where I'm going to do it.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Stillness {Day 26 and, um, 27}: Living the Lessons




The more astute among you have already clocked that no post magically appeared in the 11o' clock-ish hour last night.  Whoops.

You see, there was another sort of Stillness that presented last night.  The sort of stillness that sneaks up on you, disguised by a silly bathtime dance-off, by Mommy's offer to read TWO chapters (just because), by siblings miraculously content to curl around my shoulders and head like kittens.

A very peaceful bedtime it was, and the kids were delighted to have a mom lounging around on their beds, listening to goofy knock knock jokes and failing to hurry them along in the nighttime routines.

Then came the call for lights out, and with it the discovery that Ms 9's Beloved Teddy was missing.  Yikes.  With the wavering bottom lip and fat hot tears spilling, the rumblings of a major tantrum sounded through the house.

Yet, the Stillness remained - through grace alone I stayed calm, refused to enter into DefCon10 with her, and asked her simply to go find another room in which to rail against the Fates and then, to calm herself.   Shockingly, this worked.

Here is where the Stillness really worked its magic:  as the lights were switched off, and darkness settled around their heads as physically as the down of their pillows, the sadness in her heart came out in whispers - broken heartedness over playground politics, perceptions of difference, questions of identity and growth and.... oh.  You know.  The easy stuff.

And I was able to stop and listen.  To really hear.  She'd felt the stillness in my heart and mind, and trusted that sharing the tumult in hers would be ok.  

I wrote earlier this month about offering Stillness to your kids.  Last night I lived the lesson, and was so grateful I did.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Stillness {Day 25}: Poems in the bottom of our shoes

(44/365) :: About to take my new shoes for a walk

"Poems hide.  In the bottom of our shoes,
they are sleeping. They are the shadows
drifting across our ceilings the moment
before we wake up.  What we have to do
is live in a way that lets us find them."
-Naomi Shihab Nye


As good a definition of Stillness as any I've read. 

You may believe you have no need of poems in your life.  Then you are mistaken.   Perhaps in a month of posts I will not convince you that the sleeping poems in the bottoms of your shoes will change you, but all you must do is look for them.  Your perspective will never be the same.




Monday, October 24, 2011

Stillness {Day 24}: I'm going to go THERE




I hinted at it in my post on airline travel.

Mostly, however, these posts have been carefully skirting the issue.

But [deep breath] I have to be honest with you.  I can talk Stillness all month long, but my dark secret is this:

[clears throat]

[eyes wander towards the ceiling]

Ok. I am a little bit a lot in love with my iPhone.

Seriously?  Is that all?  I hear you eye-rollers mutter out there.  So what?  I'm in love with my iPhone too!  IOS 5 holla! 

Well.  So then the party gets crashed by this guy writing about Henry Thoreau and Walden.  (Another holla! to my friend Don for the link.) Sam Graham-Felson writes about life with an iPhone - no, not just life, but full-time existence with an iPhone.  The first thing we check in the morning, the last thing we check at night.  Sigh.  I *really* wanted not to recognize myself in his descriptions.

I was slow to hop on the iPhone train, but let's just say the learning curve wasn't a burden. I love the email, the Facebook, the Pinterest, the all-of-it.  I love having something to whip out for the kids in a doctors office so that I can get my Achilles' palpated in peace.

But.  But.  To co-opt Mr Graham-Felson's phrase - the iPhone is making my life easier, not better.

When examining one's life through the lens of Stillness, it is hard to make the case for a 62x/day Facebook check. It is dicey at best to suggest that it is important to pin 16 images of Stillness to a Pinterest board in order to find Still in my day.

In our little Stillness experiment I've done a some examination of my phone habit.  I've consciously left my phone on Silent in the evenings when I'm hanging with my husband.   When I play with the kids outside, I leave the phone in the kitchen. 

I'm not quitting my phone.  Honestly?  It had me at the Hello apple.   But I will question the need to hold it in my palm at the bus stop.  I will stop myself before I sneakily check it during bedtime songs & stories. 

This evening I do apologize that I don't have a photo for you, of Ms 3 in a snowman sweater, red velvet plaid skirt, pink & black argyle tights and green frog boots.  It was classic.  But here's the thing:  I was busy playing TV Tag with that funny little girl.  Busy keeping them in hysterics with names of early-80s tv shows and getting smoked by my 7 year old.

Today, my life kicked my phone's ass.






Saturday, October 22, 2011

Stillness {Day 22}: Stillness is not always Comfortable

All the soothing images I posted yesterday aside, Stillness can make any of us very uncomfortable indeed.

When we still our minds, the dark thoughts see their chance.  They rear up on hindlegs,  and unleash howls of anger, anxiety, jealousy, or maybe pure fear. 

And in the stillness, the dark thoughts scream, slither and shove for primacy in the front of your brain.  They resent to their core that they've been ignored.

Dragon

I say, let them come. Let the thoughts come.   Allow the stillness to bring what it may.

My kids have an old picture book that was mine as a child, called There's No Such Thing as Dragons.  A little boy finds a dragon, and every time the boy tries to tell his mother about it, and the mother insists there's no such thing as dragons! the animal grows another few sizes.  It grows and grows (based on repeated denials) until it picks up the entire house on its back, and walks down the street.  The father runs into the dragon, with the house on its back, and the little boy shouts out the window about what's happened, and still the father insists:  but there's no such THING as dragons! 

Finally the little boy confronts his parents, and says (quite reasonably) there IS such a thing, and he's right here with our house on top of him!.

 Poof! Like that, the dragon is reduced to his original, puppy-like size and life returns to normal.

Which is all to say that the thoughts you don't want to spend any time with, the ones that you keep busy to avoid - those are the ones that need to be met face to face.  They must be given space, and Stillness, in order to be reduced to size.

Stillness isn't comfortable, but it's one heck of a dragonslayer.


Friday, October 21, 2011

Stillness {Day 21}: Being Still, the Visual

I have a funny little collection to show you.

I'm obsessed with a site called Pinterest, which is essentially a virtual bulletin board where you 'pin' items of interest that one might run across all over the interwebs.  People can 'follow' your boards, see what you're pinning, and pin it on their own if they're so moved. 

I take the time to explain this, because it isn't H.U.G.E. huge yet.  And really, it is a giant time suck, wherein you can spend 3 hours pinning a zillion things that you'd like to make/do/buy someday but in all honesty will probably never ever look at outside of Pinterest.

Anyway. I've been working on a Be Still board.   (To see the whole thing, you have to click that link.  Or, you know, go ahead & click this one.) These are little gems that have caught my eye in all sorts of contexts; a gestalt, if you will, of the way I look at Stillness.

A favorite path to Still

Being the nerd that I am, I was fascinated to look at the entire thing, and notice patterns: of empty inviting seats, of still waters, of views that invite you in to their visual plane, of soft vintage color, of small moments and quiet drinks.  And books. Always books. 

You will all have your own images that mean Still.  Even if you aren't a visual person, take just a few minutes today to think about what sort of pictures would be Still to you.  Imagine it, do a quick Google search, stick up a magazine photo on your fridge.   There will be something, I'm betting, that will whisper Be Still to you, every time you pass it.

Pay attention to this.  It is Stillness seeking you out.



Thursday, October 20, 2011

Stillness {Day 20}: Poet of Stillness






I first discovered the poetry of Gunilla Norris as a newlywed graduate student.  Penniless, living on a student loan, but convinced that we could still create a life of beauty.

Her poetry backs up this idea.  And it's stunning.  Below are some excerpts from her website:

Keeping a cleaned and empty surface somewhere in our homes is a little thing that can have subtle power. Take the kitchen counter, for instance. When cleared of all used up and sticky things, it can be a wonderful reminder to clean the inner counter, too, of its messy complaints and leftovers. A clean surface is a wonderful icon for stillness and peace. It can also be a place of inspiration for cooking up something new.

Keeping silent, we hear the roar of existence


It is a paradox that keeping still can lead us so fully into life and being.

It has always been my understanding that when we are really present in our daily activities, our lives become more luminous, filled with love and grace.  


What little thing could be more powerful than a pause — a simple, "do nothing" breath break so the soul can catch up with the body? More powerful yet would be more of them sprinkled throughout the day. 

These are beautiful thoughts about the depth of our living.   A little tricky, finding profundity in your local bookstore that looks more like Toys R Us, but track it down.  You won't be sorry to read someone articulating the joy of stillness so beautifully.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Stillness {Day 19}: Do you have to be still to be, y'know, Still?


So yesterday I called out the Activity People. The folks who consciously structure a huge amount of busy-ness into their lives. 

This morning I got an email from one of my most favorite Activity People, the one who finally got me off the couch and running.  She'd been catching up on the blog, and right off the bat, she asked me:  "do you have to actually be still to be Still?

No.  Oh my, no.

The Stillness arrives in the strangest of places.  It arrives in the middle of a long run, when you realize you've forgotten the preschool playgroups, the vacation-time bills, the Make Sure I Remembers.  It arrives in the early morning as you switch on the first lamp in a dark kitchen, and make a small circle of light in which to enjoy your coffee.  It is absolutely there as you stomp in puddles, play tag in the backyard, or throw yourself into a game of pickup soccer with friends.

These are just my small moments.  You will find your own.  You can find your own, anyway, if you want.  The quieting of your mind has nothing to do with physical stillness.  It has everything to do with awareness, and gratefulness, of where we are. In that very moment.






Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Stillness {Day 18}: Are your feet falling asleep?



All this stillness, I mean.  Have your feet fallen asleep?

I knew starting out that Stillness wasn't going to be The Hot Topic of the century.  I mean, there are over six hundred bloggers participating in the 31 Days Project this October!  And I'll be honest:  31 Days to a No-Brainer Wardrobe sounds infinitely more fun than this Stillness stuff.

Stillness is a challenge.  For those prone to navel-gazing like me,  it comes a little bit easier.  I love having the excuse to sit still and think really hard about where and why I am.  But I do have a fair number of friends who are busy busy people.  They are people who structure their entire days - entire lives - around work, sports, activities, playdates, coffee dates, you name it. 

I so envy their energy levels, their focus, their drive.  At heart, a navel-gazer like me is a teensy bit lazy, and likes to explain that away with a lot of talk about introspection, self-knowledge, and um, creativity.  I am pretty much at peace with who I am, and say this with tongue firmly planted in cheek. 

The world needs all sorts, y'know?

But here's where I have the inside track, and why I kinda like my Thinker/Watcher self:  Stillness arrives more quickly for me, these days.  If a silent sort of meditative quality can scream its name on occasion, I am the person who can hear the hollering. 

I find myself noticing it in the middle of a preschool hayride, and I point out to my small girl the spectacle of 20 ducks in formation, black checkmarks in the clear autumn sky.   I am tempted to stop my car in the middle of a two-lane road, just because the lineup of a red barn against autumn trees says to me Stillness Lives Here.  I notice the square of sunlight in the middle of my living room couch, and I am instantly grateful for the invitation and keenly aware of its temporary state.  I lie down immediately, and seize the rare chance for a nap.

All of you Activity People out there, it's ok.  I get you.  I understand that Stillness feels as foreign to you as Tantric Yoga or ... pffft. I don't know - needlepoint?  But it doesn't mean you get a free pass.  Stillness is there for you too.

Just for a minute, today, just for maybe two minutes even, allow yourself to think about Stillness.  Allow yourself to consider the people who live with Still.  Is there anything there you recognize?  Anything there you envy for your own existence? 

I'm betting that all of us wish there was more Still in our lives.



 

Monday, October 17, 2011

Stillness {Day 17}: Naptime


The end of naps is nigh.

She's so close to four she's planning her 'birfday partee', so tall and strong and funny and mouthy and gorgeous.  She's *this* close to four, and the other 2 had left naptime far behind by the time they'd reached this ripe old age.

But oh:  the profound stillness that comes over her when finally she climbs onto my bed, rubs her soft blanket against her cheek and lowers her eyelids.  Her entire being welcomes the quiet, welcomes the chance to let it all be, just for an hour or two.

As with so much of life, our instincts at three speak to what is basic within us.  The ability to be still and rest peacefully. 

How long has it been since we've laid down our burdens (preschool or otherwise) and rested? 

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Stillness {Day 16}: The Clock Stood Still

I visited a friend's parents today - made my right turn onto their road, following the narrow single lane back towards their familiar gate.  It must have been about this time of year I drove that lane for the first time, twenty five years ago.  I eased into their driveway - almost as familiar as my own parents', and I had the strangest, most beautiful sense of the constrictions of time and space suspending.  

The lovely old farmhouse welcomed me as it has so many hundreds of times - with graciousness, quiet beauty, and imperfection.    The family inside - brothers, sisters, parents, grandchildren, babies -  shared all of those traits and more, as we hugged hello, wondered how long has it been? and traded stories. 

Perhaps it was the warm autumn sun, the alchemy of that warmth mixed with a beautiful October breeze that turned leaves of trees all around the house, and made curtains wave to me.  Perhaps it was the lack of schedule - the willing suspension of deadlines, of timeframes, of task lists.  Perhaps the evanescent magic of fall - a time of year so quick to end, so dark in its finishing days - made the moments there in the farmhouse feel all the more achingly beautiful.

fall sunshine
photo courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons

The facts of our lives:  grinding daily schedules, disappointments inherent in adult life, heartbreaks acknowledged but unspoken, did not magically disappear.  But somehow, there in the autumn sunshine, all of our lives became so much larger than the sum of our days, so much bigger than a life of schedule and task.

A family, gathered.  A friend, welcomed.  Somehow the simple rituals of a family together took me closer yet to the essence of Stillness:  awareness of - and gratitude for - history.  For connection.  For time. For love.

These, friends, are the gifts of Stillness. 




Saturday, October 15, 2011

Stillness {Day 15}: Goals on Ice

My view right now is a long stretch of jeans, and my ankle stretched out beyond that - on top of a complicated hierarchy of ice-filled Ziploc bags.  I take turns, icing first the right side, then the left.

I've got my laptop on my lap, looking at photo after photo of Facebook friends - including my own crowd of running peeps  - finishing the Baltimore Running Festival. 

Most of them ran the half marathon today, and I had planned from the minute I finished the BRF last year to be running it along with them. 

And here I sit, icing the same Achilles injury that's plagued me since February 28. I iced these ankles at 6 am, 1pm, and now 10pm.  I did not run today.

I bravely blogged about goals, and game changers, and embracing a season of healing  - a season of stillness, if you will - back in March.  By October 15 I have lost patience.  I don't want to embrace the season of healing.  I want to wake up tomorrow morning and run with my friends in the woods, the way I used to every Sunday. 

But the human body is a funny thing, and Achilles injuries even funnier.  If you tempt them - if you push further than you know you should, you will pay.  Two weeks ago I ignored the twinges, the quiet warning signs that I should know by now to respect, because I wanted so badly to run with a friend in the foothills of LA. 

I'm still paying.  Paying for fighting the Stillness.  Not that I really believe Stillness subscribes to the philosophy of paybacks, but it's one of those immutable rules of Life:  if you ignore what you know to be true, what you know to be necessary, you will always, always regret it.

Tonight, I'm mostly whining about Stillness.  It's true.




Friday, October 14, 2011

Stillness {Day 14}: Being Still - Is it the new bon bon?




The running joke is that the life of a stay-at-home mom involves a fair bit of bon bon eating and soap opera watching.

Reading through the posts of the last 2 weeks, I have to ask myself:  is there a whole lot of eye-rolling going on out there as I tell you all about Stillness, and the small moments of Still that occur in our days?

Sure, I hear someone [ah, the mythical Someone] muttering - sure, it's all well and good to talk about Stillness when you're messing about with preschool pickups and grilled cheese sandwiches.  Of course you have moments of Still - you've got naptime in your house, for the love of Barney!  Meanwhile the rest of us are enduring meetings, taking calls, commuting ridiculous distances.   There's no time for stillness in a life this busy!

Maybe.

But I think there IS time.

You see, Stillness is not so much the absence of other activity.  Stillness is not so much the lack of occupation.

The practice of Stillness has everything to do with grasping your occupations - and your preoccupations - with a firm hand, telling them just a minute.  I will be with you in just a minute.

For just that minute, or even two or even FIVE if you're being really profligate with your peacefulness, leave those occupations exactly where they are.  Freeze frame. 

When I worked I used to keep an amazing hand-thrown vase on my desk, as a focus for those moments of Stillness.  As a mom, I've been known to use chubby fingers or Lego creations for the same purpose. 

Take those minutes to be fully aware of your place in the world, of the outrageous gifts that surround you (autumn leaves, good health, shoes that don't pinch) and of all that makes up your world. 

There is time.  There is always time to still your mind, and be grateful.


Thursday, October 13, 2011

Stillness {Day 13}: Perspective


and what we hear depends mainly on what we listen for

what we touch depends mainly on what we reach for

what we taste depends mainly on what we choose to eat

what we smell depends mainly on with what we surround ourselves. [unless you have an ancient golden retriever.  then, all bets are off, and all can be blamed on the canine.]

**********

this could be cheesy pop psychology; this could be the most profound thing to ever turn up on this blog.  i'm undecided.  but a shift in perspective is always - always - key when i am looking for stillness.  so many times it is hidden in plain sight.






Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Stillness {Day 12}: Slivers of still

a playdate at the park - happy shouts, small legs powering up ladders and shooting down slides.  their mothers are oddly calmed by the rambunctiousness.

a silly lunchtime, with the grilled cheese of so many of our days.   two kids, dissolving into giggles over carrot sticks in nostrils.  their mom was genuinely amused.

a pre-nap storytime, with two small kids curled around their mom like parentheses, listening to the gentle cadences of AA Milne. 

an hour of school with a proud student who felt he was getting it.  who shyly - but handily - breezed through a math test.

it was a no-playdate day.  the mom of the house wanted only to gather her small chicks around her, to have a quiet afternoon with them.

the rain started its thrumming on the sidewalk, and there were instant calls for raincoats and boots.  a dam was built, the puddles were stomped, a broken downspout became an impromptu shower.


three wet Smalls trooped in, stripped off, and ran for the shower.  The call of Can you all wash your hair, if you're in there??? followed them up the stairs.  there was laughing and bossing and hollering, and then calls for cozy pants and warm socks.

the day quietly slipped into dusk, disguised by grey rain clouds.  quiet spread to all levels of the house, and each child found their own small occupations.

baked apples for a special dessert, and real whipped cream which became a group effort. one splashing vanilla, another scooping sugar, with the big sister in charge of the KitchenAid.

Make no mistake: stillness is in every sort of day.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Monday, October 10, 2011

Stillness {Day 10}: Parenting with Stillness. Not an Oxymoron.


When in doubt, choose the kids.  There will be plenty of time later to choose work. - Anna Quindlen



I had a friend post this on my Facebook wall yesterday: any words of wisdom as I enter into stay-at-home mommyhood this week?  After 10 years of working I'm leaving my career and not looking back!

Oh my.  Where to start?  I mean, how long can you go on, on someone's FB wall, without being seen as seriously psychotic, instead of Stay At Home Mom Extraordinaire?

In the end, I shared the only wisdom I felt comfortable with, saying that there truly is no 'one right way', and that to be a great mom you have to trust your instincts, and to treasure each and every minute possible.  True for any parent, tougher for the mom wiping up the 7th glass of spilled milk that day.

On reflection, later today, I realized my advice could be even simpler. 

Be Still, is my advice to stay at home mothers.  To parents, really.

Be still, and know that you are witness to magic. 

Be still, and know that you are participating in a tremendous experiment where no one knows the outcome, but everything is still possible.

Be still, and trace their soft fat cheek with your fingers, because soon that cheek will turn angular and beautiful, but lack any roundness that echoes the infant in arms they were.

Be still, and marvel at their quick wit, their sharp humor, their changing emotions that they don't yet know to hide.

Be still, and let their psychic storms wash over you.  Your peace will be their peace, and they will come to treasure the stillness you can offer them within the safety of their home.

Be still, and let there be mess.  Kids are messy, and there will be a mess.  Absolutely there will be a time for clean up, a time for the character building that tidying up offers, but let there be mess.

Be still, and offer stillness to them.  They will fight it, kicking, maybe even screaming, but offer stillness to them.  Turn off televisions, iTunes, Leapsters, xBoxes, iPods and cell phones and offer your kids the gift of stillness in the home.   A place where they can calm their hearts and minds, and therefore go peacefully into the world.

This is what I can offer as advice to parents of children, size XS to XL:  Be Still.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Stillness {Day 9}: The music will take you there




The hubs and I went out for a little date tonight.  Went to a 'house concert', our friend called it, when he invited us.  A small concert in his home, an Irish singer and her guitar.

We chatted a bit, had a quick drink, then took our seats in the living room.  Fil Campbell stood up front and with the beautiful music of the Irish accent tripping off her tongue before she even started singing,  she invited those who knew the ancient folk tunes to sing along with her.

She began to sing, just like that.  Sad aching music wound its way around the shoulders of the guests:  I saw chins lift, and eyes mist as even the hippest of hipsters heard chords that resonated in the collective psyche of mothers singing lullabies, of grandparents singing forgotten choruses.

What is it about music that so instantly moves, so immediately takes us to distant memories and buried thoughts?

I wondered, in that instant, if this might be something to do with Stillness.  And of course, like all things of Quality, of course it had everything to do with Still.

Music is a thing that can command our entire attention.  Certainly it can be background noise.  Certainly there are forgettable tunes that can - no must - be forgotten.  (Barbie Girl by Aqua, anyone?)

But real music has power like no other to fully still our hearts and minds.  And I'm not just talking a lovely Irish folk tune.   I have clear memories of a Portishead set where I could have been anywhere, at any time, and the thrum of bass underneath would still reach me.  There was a underground jazz club on one of my earliest dates with Nilsen, and the memories are only of sound, and heat, and dark and more sound.  There is the incredible moment on my wedding day, when the trumpets swelled, and my husband (!) and I turned around to walk out and face the rest of our life.  All I have to do is hear the opening chords and I tear up.

Stillness, at its heart, is being aware - keenly aware - of your place in the cosmos and the complexity of all that surrounds you.

Music, I decided tonight, is just about the most direct way to get there.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Stillness {Day 8}: The Dark Side of Still



One of my major reservations about doing a series on Stillness was that I might seem to come across as some sort of Live in the Now expert.  Mindfulness Madam.  Senior Fellow in Stillness.

[Yeah, alright, you long time readers can stop laughing now. I'm serious.  I was worried.]

I am not mindful all day long.  Some days, ok fine A LOT of days I am not mindful at all, and build no stillness into my life whatsoever.  Not real stillness.  Laziness, yes.  Exhausted stupor, oh yeah - every morning when I stagger out of bed, and every evening as I collapse back onto the mattress.  Stunned silence?  More often than I'd like.

Throughout this 31 Days I'm planning to share with you where my darker thoughts go on this subject.  I'll tell you about my Sally Snark inner voice that makes fun of my Stillness meditations, my Judgy McJudgerson inner voice that thinks there a lot better things to do with my time, and my Troubled Goth Teenager inner voice that insists I just don't get it, that I'm just not deep enough, man. 

[No wonder I can entertain myself for long stretches at home alone with the kids.  I've got fantastic multiple personalities to keep me company!]

So this little Saturday night post is just to tell you that it's ok if you don't buy into all this Stillness stuff all the time.  Sometimes, like late on a weekend night when I'm tired and whiny and just want to watch trashy tv?  I wanna say what's the - ugh - *point*?? too.

And then, the next day, I will wake up, do a little shimmy in the shower and get my guru mojo back. I will return to looking for Still, because on those days, just the discipline of the search is enough to get us started.

Wait for it.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Stillness {Day 7}: Go Pull Some Weeds




When I cannot bear outer pressures anymore, I begin to put order in my belongings... As if unable to organize and control my life,  I seek to exert this on the world of objects.  -Anais Nin

Post-vacation life piles up around me.  Laundry, receipts, a week's worth of mail to be sorted and an empty fridge all silently pass judgement on my lack of productivity, my failure to make any concrete progress.

The kids are funny.  They don't register the chaos - they register only that the sun has returned, and mudpies are waiting to be made, and buddies up the street are welcoming them back home.  Friends swirl in and out of the house, and happy shouts of This time I'M Emperor Palpatine!!! ring out from the treehouse.

I felt the panic rise all week - no forward progress, no measurable improvement in the general upheaval that is our house.  The bills, when opened, don't help to calm frazzled nerves.

So I went outside.

Stood out on my walk and irritatedly reviewed the overgrown post-summer foliage.

I pulled up a dead tomato plant.  Then another.  I pulled on the end of a morning glory vine and ended up with two armfuls of twisted dying plant.  I bent at the hips and got right to the root of a perennial daisy. Out it came.  Plant after plant, clods of earth exploding overhead, I pulled out festering old roots, snaking choking vines, and snapped brittle branches one by one.

There is nothing to be done about the weight of tasks that loom over us, day in and day out.  One must simply plod through the laundry, the bills and the contractor meetings. 

But sometimes, the only way to get to Still is to go out and exert control over one tiny corner of your world.   Tidy the garden.  Ready it for the quiet winter season. 

Sometimes, the most direct path to a small corner of Stillness is the path of action. 

Go. Pull some weeds.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Stillness {Day 6}: Stillness and Study



I  attend a class once a week that challenges me as much as any college course.  Any course in my post-grad degree, come to that.

As a teenager, as a young adult, never in a hundred years would I have imagined that a class like this would be the thing that feeds me on a weekly basis. 

It is 2 hours in my week that creates the space for me to think critically, think carefully, and to read and re-read the texts.  In this space I am able to apprehend deeper wisdom through the exchange of ideas, through the study of the text, through the encouragement to examine critically ideas that we've held as Truth our entire lives.

It is 2 hours of Stillness in my week.  A space in which I am forced to still my mind - to leave my to-do lists, my phone calls, and my cherished iPhone alone - and to open my mind to knowledge, insight, and new thought.

This is Stillness.  Stillness of the most generative sort.

It's a bible study at my church, led by our pastor and populated by some of the smartest people I know.


I didn't want to tell you about this part of my life.  Was a little kvetchy about admitting such an active part in my faith.  But as I sat there this morning, in the first class this fall, I understood that I have found a place of Stillness like no other. It is part of who I am, and what feeds me.

It is Stillness of the First Order, and I just had to tell you about it.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Stillness {Day 5} : Not Still at all



I knew there'd be days like this. Knew it from the minute I decided on my 31 Days topic.

Nothing wrong with today in the slightest - bright sunshine at long last, preschoolers playing together nicely, a few things accomplished.

But no stillness.  It was a busy busy day, full of kids and errands and school and laundry and... just normal. No moments of insight, no flashes where I think to myself this. THIS! and know I've found my Still for the day. 

But maybe it is there all along, on those days where there are no flashes, no insights.  The days that tick along gently, with crisp autumn air [finally!] pouring through open windows, little girls who have nothing more to break their hearts than a territory battle over a tower of pillows, big kids who do their homework without gnashing of teeth.

This is its own version of Still:  a quiet mind that navigates its day without major complaint. A contented heart that didn't realize its happy state until the quiet moments of the day in review reveal that actually?

There was stillness all along.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Stillness {Day 4}: Happy, and Still, all at once


A hundred folding seats on a flagstone terrace.  A wedding swirling with guests, drinks, canapes.  Flashes from  cameras blink across the crowd.  Thrumming music surrounds the space, and knives forks and glasses clink amongst the tables.

A wedding is a happy time, surely - but a time for Stillness? 

Oh yes.

The very smallest of still moments as a star-struck nine year old sees herself dressed in flower girl finery, satin slippers on feet and roses in her curled hair.

The moment of still when the bride shyly turns around in her dress and every woman in the dressing room gasps, their eyes welling with full heartedness.

The quiet stillness of a bride adjusting the veil herself, lost in a reflection that goes far deeper than the mirror's offering.

The moment of still as music stops, guests turn their heads simultaneously, a single beat singing out before they see her.

The stillness as the bride arrives at the front, stunning under a thin layer of tulle. For an instant, she is uniquely her, most beautifully her, and singularly transformed by her joy.  That instant right there, she could equally be every bride through history - every woman who is absolutely certain of the love she claims as hers, there at the altar.

That brief second in the first dance, where the groom forgets his concentration on the dance steps and instead is completely absorbed in the amazing gift that is the person dancing with him.

I can't even describe how stunning this bride was, y'all
The remarkable stillness of a crowd absorbing a toast crafted from the heart, emotion suffusing every single word offered.

Make no mistake:  there are many moments of Stillness in a wedding.  It takes a careful heart to find them, and to treasure them, but oh they are there!

Those moments of stillness - of concentrated joy and gratefulness - bring us to deeper moments of joy within ourselves, when we remember, or at least remember to believe in, the possibilities of a transformative love like that. 

On a wedding day, deep in each of our hearts, we ask questions of love.  Those moments of stillness? They are the answers.



Monday, October 3, 2011

Stillness {Day 3}: Humans in Flight



Spent my day flying.  There was a cabin-full of people, all sat still for five hours from LA to Washington.  At the beginning of the flight, after all the boarding and the polite would you like the window seat?, the captain asks all electronic devices be switched off.

For 10 minutes.  And then, blessed relief, all can be switched on again, each of us with our own seat of headphones, our own "electronic devices", our own little spheres of existence.

All of us, sat in our seats, carefully buckled in.  Parked in one spot for the next five hours.

This is stillness, right? 

No.  Not, not still in the slightest.

A cabin full of passengers, each with their own small screen in front of them where you can dial up games, movies, satellite tv - the latest on Jersey Shore, dontcha know - for the entire flight.  You can even click little buttons to let the cabin staff know that you'd like a drink, please.  2 minutes later, your tonic water wordlessly turns up and with a pleasant smile, the steward is on his way.

This is not stillness.

Stillness is not Not Moving. Stillness involves consciousness.  Stillness involves, well, being still.  In heart, in mind, in body.   It doesn't mean watching a whole movie from start to finish.  It means allowing yourself the space to say I'm not going to watch.  I'm not going to listen.  I'm not going to type.  I will simply be here, and be aware of all that is going on around me, and all that is in my head.

A scary proposition, this.  For those of us with phones that can look up anything, present us with information and emails and 'pokes' on a non-stop basis, it is a scary thing to turn it all off.

I sat for a moment, in my seat, looking around at the screens in every seat in front of me. I thought about making my 9 year old next to me switch off to play Bananagrams instead.  And then, sadly, I pulled out my laptop instead, switched on my iTunes, and plugged in.   Stillness escaped, once again, but just for that split second I saw how elusive, how very slippery, the stillness is.

It slips away.

Stillness {Day 2}: A History of Still

"Hurry is not of the devil; it is the devil." (Carl Jung 1875-1961)

It occurred to me that maybe explaining why I wanted to meditate on Stillness for these 31 Days might be helpful.  Some of you lifers may remember when I originally posted this two years ago, but for those of you new to NilsenLife, here's the original seed of Stillness:


********
I'm just going to say this: I behave terribly when it is time to get little people out the door. Partly because I'm always running just slightly late, always underestimating the time it takes to find one pink Croc, the 2 Very Special Playmobil Guys who are to travel with us, and the big sister who is Officially A Bit Dreamy. Partly because no one seems to grasp just how important it IS to get somewhere on time. Partly because no matter how many times it fails, I keep believing that yelling/sighing/stomping (I know, mature, right?) will actually change the outcome.

In fact, I think this ineffective yelling/sighing/stomping sort of behavior has been a bit of a hallmark of the last year or so. A development that doesn't necessarily fill me with pride.

So this was my Mother's Day present this year:


It is a Lisa Leonard necklace, titled "Be Still." I have worn it almost daily since that day in May - it is beautiful, and a sweet little accessory, but it has become a talisman to me. A meditation, if you will, to remind me in its weight against my collarbone that what is required of this moment is to simply Be Still.

It is so hard for any of us to be still.

Those of us with kids are fully occupied by the next activity, the next fight, the next birthday party. Those of us who work are stressing the next deadline, the next phone call, the next meeting. All of us have homes with dishes, with laundry, with bills to be paid, with projects large and small. We all sit with our computers, clicking from tab to tab, instant messaging-emailing-shopping-Facebooking-blogging. Maybe the TV is on for good measure, just in case all the websites go silent at once.

Psychic busy-ness is a specialty of mine: with worry, with guilt, with blame, with doubt. Yet none of those pursuits will bring me to stillness.

Most just avoid stillness through its antithesis: hurry. We are hurrying to the next thing, hurrying to finish, in a hurry to cook, in a hurry to eat, in a hurry to live.

Really, many have addressed this topic far more eloquently, more deeply than I can. For starters, try this post over at Zen Habits:

We are always on, always connected, always thinking, always talking. There is no time for stillness — and sitting in front of a frenetic computer all day, and then in front of the hyperactive television, doesn’t count as stillness.
This comes at a cost: we lose that time for contemplation, for observing and listening. We lose peace.

I am trying to find Still.

I started this post long ago, right after I got the necklace and I wanted to tell you about my new meditation tool. I'd been doing a lot of thinking about how to preserve stillness in my life, in my kids' lives. I'd been regretting my need to hurry, wondering how I could carve out stillness for my home. And then....I got busy. And hurried. And then I got an email, just ahead of a particularly busy weekend. And this is the photo that greeted me when I clicked 'open':




In every faith, in every tradition, there exists in some form this exhortation - this command: Be Still. It is a command designed to give us nothing less than our lives.

Stop. Cease. Slow Down.

Rest.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

31 Days of Stillness

I've come up with a new harebrained scheme.  The scheme itself isn't so harebrained, but the fact that I am trying to launch it whilst in Southern California for a family wedding, trying to post a blog before rushing off to rehearsal dinner and introducing the babysitter to the assembly of cousins she'll be watching? That's the harebrained bit.

So.  A bunch of bloggers, inspired by The Nester and her blog series last October, have banded together to participate in 31 Days - a month of blog posts on a theme.

I've been thinking about the idea of Stillness for a while now.  (Maybe all mothers of young kids think about stillness on a daily basis?)  So for thirty-one days I'll be meditating on Stillness in our lives.  I'd love to have you all along on the ride.  Some days in my life offer more chance for reflection than others; on the uniquely non-still days we may have to content ourselves with a photo of a small moment of stillness in my day.

Today, in the midst of preparations, here was my small moment of stillness:


A beautiful lunch with the loveliest of friends, in the California sunshine.
Kids singing together, toddlers stripping in the paddling pool, soccer balls ricocheting.
Here was the stillness we needed, stillness in the presence of friends, and their kids.
Stillness of heart, knowing you are in a place where you are loved.

The very happiest kind of stillness.



Tuesday, September 20, 2011

No One Said It Would Be Easy

Things like rocket science, investment banking, brain surgery - these are tough. Widely acknowledged to be challenging pursuits: those requiring a whole mess of education.

Raising a family - nurturing a crowd of respectful, inquisitive and creative future citizens of the Earth. Eating dinner together. Fostering connection with those next to you, those around you, those in your daily round. This is the easy stuff, right?

Today was a typical Tuesday afternoon here at the Yellow House: shouts of THE BUS!!! sprints to meet The Big Sister, rapid fire debriefing/homework/snack and then dashing back out the door to track down playmates. I managed the politics of three year olds in the sandbox, and whilst slapping at post-Irene late September mosquitoes, my mind wandered dangerously close to the Big Ideas that loiter in the shadows of half-thought and distraction.

I blinked twice and it was already 6.10 - far too late to be starting dinner but the very soonest it could've happened. Crouching in front of the fridge I waited to be inspired, then gave up & started heating tomato sauce, water to boil pasta, sliced zucchini to steam.

Then it was 7, and the lights were quieted through the house. My three kids sat, and somehow all the glow of the late evening centered itself around our long table. Tonight the candles - so often forgotten and left unlit - cast a spell that meant silliness spilled onto the plates more than salt. Our youngest held the floor as she told us all about her first day of preschool; Lars told us about his first official math test of 1st grade, and Ms ThreeDaysAwayFromNINE explained Brief Constructed Responses to mystified parentals.

I took a break from the milk pouring, the cheese grating, the Use-Your-Napkin reminders. I listened with all my heart - to the giggles, the elementary school jokes, the older two remembering their first days at preschool - and the truth shouted at me all around the table.

It isn't easy. In so many ways it's 1000% more difficult than rocket science or brain surgery because there are no rules, no degrees one can get that teach you how to build a family. That teach you how important the Tuesday night penne & marinara meal will be in the piece-by-piece construction of a life.

It's a beautiful quote from that Annie Dillard on writing: no one ever said it would be easy.

No one ever did.

Not the writing, not the parenting, not the building of a life.

No one ever said it would be easy. But the hard makes every living moment of our dinner time tonight worth it.

*******************

Time for Just Write again tonight my friends. I was humbled beyond measure by all the kind comments on the post last week, after such a very long time away from the keyboard. This may be a less lyrical attempt, but inspired by Heather and the incredible Annie Dillard, tonight I had to Just Write all over again. Until next time.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

On Harvest Moons and writing

My eldest and I gasped simultaneously.

Did you see that Mommy??

I did, sweetheart.  It's pretty amazing, isn't it?

A huge harvest moon had just begun its ascent, and hung right above the horizon.  Luminous in the dusky blue of a September evening.

I almost pulled the swagger wagon over to the side of the road, just to look.  In and out of the trees it seemed to bob and weave - or maybe it was me bobbing and weaving.  And then, for a long stretch on I95 I had an uninterrupted view.

I watched that moon from the corner of my eye as I drove.

harvest moon

Its glow seemed so self contained.  The huge circle hung in the sky, not gold not yellow not orange.  Just....the color of warm light itself.  The moon seemed to have no compulsion to cast shadows, to spotlight anyone or anything.  It seemed content to glow within itself, guarding a secret knowledge of the autumn to come, the long winter beyond it and a spring that will surely come. 

I want to live like that harvest moon, I found myself thinking.  I want the inner glow, the self possession that doesn't include bright flashy sunbeams cast on those around me, but rather inspires them to glow themselves. 

But.  But. I know that that spark within me, the origin of the glow is the writing.  And honestly, that light has been dim for such a long time.   Every time I sit down to write anything, I start, then sigh, and stare at a blank screen.  I hit delete-delete-delete-delete and keep that moon from rising on the horizon with its radiance and indescribable color.

Just write.  Its a message I have muttered to myself so often in the past six months.  Just write.  And yet the darkness feels unshakeable - a total eclipse, if you will.  It doesn't mean the moon has gone away - it simply means it is obliterated temporarily by the brilliance of others in its orbit - by the roles of mother wife daughter teacher.

So here it is.  I'm just writing.  Inspired, as with so many other years, by the reflections of autumn, by the wisdom gleaned in gathering days, by those around me who urge me  to Just Write.

**********************

Heather at the Extraordinary Ordinary - a blogger who makes me laugh like few others, and then choke up with tears with her very next post - yesterday put a challenge out there.  Can you do it? she asked.  Can you let go of your inner critic, of your daily routine just for a moment, and Just Write?

I am so grateful to have someone ask that simple question, the night I talked with the harvest moon.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Swimming for someone else

Remember when I got that Achilles injury and I whined about it so much that a bunch of people blocked me from their Facebook feed and then I did this really philosophical post about a season of healing?

Well I'm still not healed.   The Achilles, I mean.  That thing still swells up like a pregnant woman in a Baltimore summer when I run.

But the good news is that Torbjorn insisted I got to take up swimming again because I was driving him bananas, as a way to keep working out without straining the old ankles.

And, because I can absolutely be peer pressured into anything (um, don't ask, Mom.  Love you!), I agreed to swim a two mile race.  Two miles, you scoff.  Pah.  Well.  Consider that two miles translates into 3218.688 meters.  Which translates into 128.747 lengths of a 25 meter pool.  (Well really you have to make that 129 lengths because honestly - who's the nerd who's going to stop at 128.7 and say Hey that's it, I am D.O.N.E. DONE! ?? )

So.  Two miles.

The race is Purple Swim Baltimore, and is an event to raise awareness and funding for research into pancreatic cancer.  In 2010, over 43000 Americans were diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, and less than 25% will survive the first year.  I signed up with no first hand awareness of life with cancer.  I just thought it would be a great swim, and I could do a little bit of good with it.

I underestimated.  To use words like 'overwhelmed' and 'amazed' when I look at the amount of money donated to the cause by my very own friends and family?  Understatements.  I am nothing less than humbled.  And inspired beyond measure to go out and swim for all of us.

Because life is funny.  In the weeks since I signed up, cancer has come to visit with an uncle I love dearly. Now, in case I needed any more motivation, I have first hand knowledge of the way cancer snakes fingers around hearts and squeezes in dark and scary ways.

I've got exactly twelve hours until I swim.  Two long shark infested ruled by pirates open water miles. I'm excited.  Excited to do just a little thing to make it better, a good and difficult but still a small thing, in a very big world.

Pre-swim Purple

If you would like to contribute, you can click here to support PurpleSwim Baltimore and the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network.  (The page is open for 90 days after the swim, so even if you're slow on the clicker, you've still got time.) (But not that much time.  Get on it!)


Thursday, July 28, 2011

Look before you Leap


Fifteen years ago today I made the single best choice of my life. 

We were young - so young.

We had so many big dreams (and so few actual plans).

Yet I knew - we knew - with a certainty of instinct that comes from your deepest gut.

Together we stood at the edge of everything - stood holding hands, me wiping tears and him in a cold sweat of nervousness - and we leapt. 

Yes, we looked before we leapt. We looked out into a future entirely uncertain, found no promises or answers there, and looked at each other.  Here, at the edge of everything there were two people who delighted in each other daily, who laughed together hourly, who told each other outrageous stories and darkest secrets. Here were two newly-minted adults without the wisdom of years or experience, but possessed of the inexplicable confidence that this - this! - was Quality.

Two people leapt that day, out into the unknown.  Through updrafts and downdrafts, through terrifying spins toward the ground and through exhilarating swoops towards the heavens, we live out that leap, every single day.  

There is no other hand I'd rather be holding.

Happy Anniversary, Mr Nilsen. 

Saturday, June 25, 2011

eight and three quarters

watching her in motion is like watching two ostriches do cartwheels - all long legs and arms waving around of their own volition.

long long long feet rest on her flip flops, showing me all the growing that is still to come. three sizes, she grew this school year.  three shoe sizes.  

mosquito bites make a point-to-point map up and down her shins, meeting at the matching bandaids on both knees.

the denim miniskirt, so big she had to tie it on in the fall rides high - almost too high - this summer.  A hand-me-down Hollister t-shirt from her cooler, older neighbor friends up the street has been chosen over all the sweet flowered blouses in her drawer. 

the [finally] long hair meets her shoulders, the summer blonde streaks starting to shimmer throughout - it was carefully brushed this morning. i recognize the calculated nonchalance of hair tucked behind ears Just. So.   instantly, i remember those painful early days of knowing you want to look a certain way, but having no idea how to make it happen.



her smooth cheeks slope over razor-like cheekbones she got from her dad.  i watch the dark brown eyes follow everything that goes on around her, exactly as they did when she was six months old.  even now, so serious, she can't help the way they sparkle with curiosity, with challenge, with imagination.

she folds those knobby knees underneath her as she sits, graceful when she's not thinking about it.  she's completely unaware of my gaze - rare for her these days, with a 3rd grader's budding knowledge of the world's perceptions and judgements.  she is wise after a tough year at school, learned some life lessons far more critical than the second grade curriculum of math facts and reading strategies.

my changeling - changing.  in front of me.  so much the same as the day she was born, and yet ever a new creature in our lives.  inexorably, she moves all of us to the next phase: a hazy future involving growth spurts, hormones, algebra. a life away from - outside of - us. 

she'll never know the moments i have taken to study her.  to etch her into my heart, the exact way she looks today.  i haven't had enough moments of absorption, of making sure I know her.  just today, just this split second, i caught my girl in mid flight, even as she begins to soar so far beyond us.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Uh, Dr Schneider? You're the BEST. love, your kid

Did you notice that the Universe tilted just slightly askew last November?

I'm not sure I remember any natural disasters that happened then, or any particular blip in the stock market, but I can say without question that the world hasn't been quite the same since November 2010, because that's when my dad retired.

Ah big deal, you say.  He's a baby boomer - those guys are dropping out of the work world like dozy August flies.

But my dad, every day of his working life, changed someone's life for the better.  Every single day.

My dad was - is - a pediatrician.  For forty years he prodded small baby bellies, palpated big kid sprained ankles,  took countless histories from overwrought and sleepless new parents, and gently broke bad news to families.  He worked in hospitals, as the single pediatrician in a town way out in the country, as a family practitioner in a busy Maryland suburb.

He was that amazing doctor who chatted with siblings in the examining room, took the time to find out family stories, who had boundless patience with the parent who had endless questions.   He encouraged moms to listen to their gut instincts, and he thoroughly enjoyed dads who wanted to be part of the parenting journey.

Most of all, he loved - loves - children:  all sizes, all ages, all stages.  When he left his practice, the parents in our part of the world lost one of those doctors who would value your family to his core, and do everything in his power to make your child well.

When he retired, I think I couldn't quite believe it.  He'd made the decision 6 months earlier, and none of it came as a surprise.  So I missed my chance to tell you this story back in November, because I was still getting used to the idea.

But I realized I don't share much about my dad here, in these stories I tell.  I'll often see him three times a week, and yet I don't often include tales of this person who has been such a huge part of my life, and so incredibly formative in my growth as a parent.

My sweet mom & dad.  Aren't they cute?
But this week, this week.  I decided I had to tell you what a gift my dad has been to me this week.

In the midst of CT scans and blood tests and a spinal tap (all for The Boy, not me), my dad has been my ally, my advisor, and my motivator to go out and advocate for my child.  To make sure that I had the information I needed, and had the confidence to fight to say you will figure out what's wrong with my kid.  Who has called every single morning to check on his little patient. Who has remained calm even though I knew with certainty he was as wild with worry as I was.

I can tell you many stories about a childhood filled with adventure, with endless activity, with sledding and hiking and canoeing and football and ... all of it.  I can tell you about a dad who was wrapped around his only girl's finger on a pretty consistent basis (barring that tricky 13-17 era. Oh, and the time I crashed his truck.)  I can tell you all about how he taught me how to change the horn (in self-same truck), check the oil (only one time I forgot. in a big style black-clouds-of-smoke on the PA Turnpike way), and to throw a baseball the right way.

The stories about what a loving grandfather he is?  A whole 'nother book's worth of words.

But today I wanted to celebrate my dad not for the man he has been in my life, but for the man he has been in other's lives.  Because this week I lived with that man, and I was so blessed.  Am blessed.
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