Where I’m From

Mar 7 2017

When I first had a baby who was soft and snuggly, who smelled good and was dressed the way I liked in Baby Gap dresses I snagged from the consignment store for a steal, I felt sad for the mommies of bigger kids. I watched them, mostly at church, and I thought they were just so… homely. With horror show teeth growing on top of each other, forgetting to let the little ones fall out before the big ones came in. And mismatched clothes with tears in all the wrong places; a pocket attached but barely, a toe sticking out of a sock without a shoe. They were gangly and awkward and socially cringe-worthy. They smelled wonky and had funny hair. And, I suppose, I remembered myself at that age and felt retroactively embarrassed for myself. So I felt sorry for their mamas, and I suspected they longed for their kids to be little again, still sweet and small; still pretty; still perfect and unmarred by time and teeth.

Now I’m the mama of the gangly ones with the funny hair and wicked grins, and I still think they’re homely, only now I find them delightfully so, and I revel in the secret of the mamas of the bigs — the secret that these goofy kids are also pretty and perfect and unmarred. Both/And, friends, and becoming more Both/And every day. Both homely and stunning. Both wonky and wonderful. Both grimy and gorgeous. Both magic and mess. Like all of us, it turns out, made up of a mix and jumble. Human and divine. And I adore that they are mine.

Cai came home from school last week and declared he hates writing the Most of ALL. He’s in 4th grade and he hates writing. He hates drawing. He hates art. And he really, really, extra hates poetry. Poetry is horrible. And then he pulled a poem from his backpack and threw it on the kitchen table, on top of Something Sticky from days ago, and on top of bills and groceries and someone’s sock, and he left the room to play XBox with his brother while I read his poem and laughed because it starts silly… and then wept because there it was, all written out, who my kid is at this wonky, beautiful age, and where he’s really from, in truth.

Where I’m From
by Cai Woolsey

I am from computer.
From Twix candy bars and XBox.

I am from chaos.

I am from madness.
From helpful
And dirty.

I am from the willow that weeps
And the pear that is sweet.

I am from eating snow
And joyfulness from Beth and Greg.

I’m from loudness
And ruff housing.

From peace
And love.

I’m from kindness
And giving.
I’m from my Papa’s Marines
And from cheese and steak.

I’m from the hospital.
I am from my home.

I asked Cai’s teacher about the poetry unit they’ve been doing. The awful, horrible poetry unit he hates which produced this picture of who my kid is, at age 10, and his wisdom and awkward, awesome grace. She shared the template with me, based on Where I’m From by George Ella Lyon, and I decided to write my own, as well.

It made me nervous, to be honest, because, as is common for Third Culture Kids, I never quite know how to answer Where I’m From. Do I say where I was born? Where I was raised? Where I live now? Where my heart, which ebbs and flows like the ocean, from one coast to another, pulled by mysterious forces, is drawn? It’s… complicated… for kids like me. We tend to know Who We Are rather than Where We’re From, but nobody ever asks Who Are You? when you meet for the first time.

Still, I thought. Still, I’d like to try so I might see. You know? And I’m sure you’ll forgive me if I steal some lines from my son.

Where I’m From
by Me

I am from the wilderness.
The jungle.
The highlands.
The home.

I am from chaos.

From magic and mess.
From grace and grime.
From wonder in the wild of a life lived off course
from what was, once, a perfectly good plan.

I am from the water;
the ocean which is dark and light
and full of life and danger.

I am from hot toddies made by fierce and friendly women.
From ancient Irish enemies — Kerr and McDonough —
and their Scottish Murray foes,
turned friends, then lovers, then strangers, then friends again.

I am from dramatic sighs
and doing things a better way
and blowing up
and quieting down
and trying and succeeding
and trying and failing
and trying
to love each other well.

I’m from Stop Baiting Your Brother, Beth
and
Someday You’ll Be Best Friends,
and she was right; we are.

^^^I’m from telling my kids the same thing.^^^
From Brainwashing for a Better Tomorrow.

I am from Love made real who walks among us.
From Love which still turns the whole world upside down.

I’m from the Celts and the Gaels
and the Viking pirates who sailed the sea.
I am from the Wild, Wild West
and an Asian jungle,
and so I’m made of rice and whiskey
and freckles
and things that taste free.

I’m posting the template below, because I’d really love to see yours, too. Feel free to use it loosely, as I did, ’cause you know who needs more rules? NOT ME. 😉 :*

Sending love, wild friends,

 

 

 

Where I’m From Template:

I am from _______ (specific ordinary item), from _______ (product name) and _______.

I am from the _______ (home description… adjective, adjective, sensory detail).

I am from the _______ (plant, flower, natural item), the _______ (plant, flower, natural detail)

I am from _______ (family tradition) and _______ (family trait), from _______ (name of family member) and _______ (another family name) and _______ (family name).

I am from the _______ (description of family tendency) and _______ (another one).

From _______ (something you were told as a child) and _______ (another).

I am from (representation of religion, or lack of it). Further description.

I’m from _______ (place of birth and family ancestry), _______ (two food items representing your family).

From the _______ (specific family story about a specific person and detail), the _______ (another detail, and the _______ (another detail about another family member).

I am from _______ (location of family pictures, mementos, archives and several more lines indicating their worth).

March Book Selection for It’s A Likely Story Book Club

Mar 1 2017

ALikelyStory

My friend, Korie, a librarian here in my little Oregon town, has been reading books for months now with one theme in mind — not a white protagonist. Children’s books. YA. Fiction. Nonfiction. She realized a while back how very white her reading list was and made a commitment to change that, both for her personal reading pleasure and also so she can better recommend books that feature people of color to our library patrons and customers. Korie’s the one who recommended An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir in January, my favorite book club book so far — and she recommended the book we selected for March, below, which I’m VERY excited to read. If you’re interested in following Korie while she curates books with leading characters of color, you can look at the hashtag #notawhiteprotagonist on Facebook which has a few of her selections listed or, even better if you’re looking for her comprehensive Not A White Protagonist list, follow her on Litsy where her handle is BookInMyHands.

A Likely Story Book Club
Announcing: March’s Book Selection!

Akata Witch
by Nnedi Okorafor

Akata Witch weaves together a heart-pounding tale of magic, mystery, and finding one’s place in the world.

Twelve-year-old Sunny lives in Nigeria, but she was born American. Her features are African, but she’s albino. She’s a terrific athlete, but can’t go out into the sun to play soccer. There seems to be no place where she fits in. And then she discovers something amazing—she is a “free agent” with latent magical power. Soon she’s part of a quartet of magic students, studying the visible and invisible, learning to change reality. But will it be enough to help them when they are asked to catch a career criminal who knows magic too?

……….

READ BELOW for our review of last month’s book, Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty.

But FIRST, I wanted to be sure you know we still have spaces available for the March 9-12 retreat at the Oregon Coast!
If you’re in the Pacific Northwest (or willing to come on over next week ;)), I would LOVE to hang out with you there.
AND, if you’re a teacher or minister, be sure to ask about discounts.

……….

And here’s our review of February’s book, Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty:

On a scale of 1-5, 1 being “UGH, I would rather stab myself in the eye than read another book like this,” and 5 being “I am currently buying 57 copies to give to all my friends,” our Facebook group collectively rated Big Little Lies a 3.8

My rating was 3.5. a 3.5. This was my first Liane Moriarty book. I LOVED her author voice and the way she develops characters with small but telling details. I loved the way she makes characters multi-dimensional — Madeline, for example, who cares about SO MANY superficial things, never met a battle she didn’t want to fight, is kind and unkind at turns, AND is a deeply loyal friend with such relateable feelings about her ex, his wife, and her daughter’s desire to move out. I liked the pacing. It kept my interest. I liked the little “reveals” along the way. However, I am not typically a murder-mystery or suspense reader. I produce plenty of anxiety in my regular life not to need any more in my entertainment life. So, while this was clearly a fictional, escapist type of book, it’s not my favorite way to escape. Personal preference is the only reason I’m not giving this one a 4… she’s clearly a gifted author, and it was a great story.

Comments from our Facebook book club:

Sarah B Arsee wrote: “The heaviness of the abuse subplot really changed this from an escapist book to one inducing way too much anxiety. I think I would rate it a 3-4. 3 because I didn’t enjoy reading it like I wanted to, I was hoping for more escape. 4 because it was really well written and she nailed the myriad of characters. So I guess that means 3.5 from me.”

Terry FischerWolfe wrote: I really enjoyed this book as a fun quick read. I would give it a 4. I loved the depth of the characters, the fast pace and the humor. I also don’t normally care for murder mysteries, but this one didn’t feel like one. It really felt like a light beach read to me, even though the subjects were pretty heavy.”

Karrie Johnson wrote: I give it a 4. I enjoy whodunits and it kept me on my edge of my seat wanting me to finish quickly. It also threw in a couple of surprises. Also made me get connected to the character, made me happy to see them happy sad/worried for them when they are distraught. I also think it raised great awareness on abuse.”

Louisa Davidson wrote: “I would give it 4-. I thought the dV plot line was really well done and I kept thinking about it afterwards. But I agree that that does not make for a relaxing or escapist read.”

Kitchen REVEAL (A Group Remodeling Project: The FINAL Chapter)

Feb 28 2017

I know. This reveal has taken months. And months and months. Which is a terrible repayment to all of you who weighed in with your placement, design and decorating decisions on parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 67, and 8 of this project. I mean — you’re the people who took us from I Don’t Want to Start My Stove with an Ice Pick Anymore to TODAY.

The bad news is this: we LOVE EVERYTHING about the new kitchen, and we’re painfully aware we wouldn’t have made, like, 70% of these choices without you (quartz countertops, moving the stove out from under the window, wall and color choices that gave us the farmhouse industrial look we hoped to have), so you’re officially on the hook for every Woolsey design project from here on out. Honestly, you have only yourselves to blame, so I don’t want to hear you complain about this. If you had thought ahead and given us crap advice, we wouldn’t be relying on you now. But you DIDN’T think ahead, it looks AMAZING, and it functions even better, so you’re stuck. Forever. You made your bed, friends.

The good news, however, is this: we don’t remodel frequently, so it may be a while before we throw ourselves on you for assistance again. Oh, we have a thousands things that NEED remodeling. We just don’t usually have the time, energy, capacity, or willingness to spend the money in order to accomplish them. So you can rest. For now.

Which bring us to …

… THE GREAT REVEAL!

The last time we saw Betty, she looked like this:

She was IN PLACE in the kitchen, but the rest, obviously, was unfinished.

Here’s what her space looked like BEFORE she moved there:

And here she is NOW:

I kind of feel like if the rest of this post was filled with nothing but that one picture, it would all be worthwhile.

 

Just one more time:

I feel like I’m DREAMING.

Can we just recall for one second that I was starting this…

…with an ice pick? surrounded by orange counters?

And now I COOK HERE:

Before:

AFTER:

From the Family Room before:

From the Family Room after:

I love all of it. ALL of it. But my very favorite part of the remodel is in the picture below, where Betty sits, and to her left. Above her, there’s fantastic light and a totally unnecessary, fabulous, luxurious pot filler. I’ve already made stocks and soups, and I adore this feature.

To Betty’s left is the pull-out garbage and recycling drawer. The fact that it’s not under the sink is a little troubling to guests, but it’s IDEAL for cooking and baking. With the baking cabinet just above the mixer, also to Betty’s left…

…I can work in that space, throwing away wrappers, eggshells, etc. as I open them. SO MUCH LESS MESS. Which in our house is the same thing as a MIRACLE.

And then there’s this, which those of you with a keen eye for details and a TINY bit of OCD have already noticed. It’s the one knob that doesn’t match, which was the Christmas present I forced Greg to buy me. See it?

It’s my beer bear.

Its mouth opens bottles.

Which is the same thing as saying it’s a Necessary Kitchen Device, I know, but Greg felt like that was less than obvious.

I tried to get Greg to buy it for me last year, from Planet Dork on Etsy, but it was too close to Christmas for shipping to make it to us on time, so nope. No beer bear bottle opener for me to display in our kitchen from Greg. It was a sad time.

THIS year, though, I made SURE in OCTOBER to remind Greg to order early because I PLAN AHEAD.

Greg didn’t order it in October.

That’s OK, though, because I reminded him again in November.

Greg didn’t order in November.

That’s OK, though, because I reminded him again in December.

Which is when Greg said, “SHOOT! Sorry. It’s too late to order it now.” He clearly felt AWFUL that he hadn’t ordered it in time for Christmas. I mean, he tried to fake like he didn’t feel horrible by saying things like, “I already got you an ENTIRE KITCHEN REMODEL for Christmas,” and, “Seriously, Beth? You really want to hang a bear head trophy in our newly remodeled kitchen?” and, “You know it costs $40, right? FORTY dollars plus international shipping for a bottle opener.”

I reassured him, though, that he needn’t feel bad, that it wasn’t too late, and that he shouldn’t worry that he tried to give me an incomplete kitchen remodel for Christmas when it would only take one, tiny, practically free steel sculpture tastefully handmade by an independent artist in the south of France to make it perfect. I even offered to go ahead and place the order for Greg because I am a Christian wife and we are our husbands’ helpmeets, and I mentioned it would be ideal, anyway, because if I placed the order I would also be able to order the sculpture by the same artist titled Dog with Unfeasibly Large Testicles which carries the loving words, “You’re the Dog’s Bollox!” and would make Greg an ideal birthday gift. Two birds, one stone! Greg said that was unnecessary, that he would actually be happy to order my beer bear, that I didn’t need to worry my pretty little head about a thing, and GUESS WHAT? The order magically came in time for Christmas!

So now the beer bear lives next to Betty to keep her company, and the kitchen remodel is complete except that he needs a name.

Bently the Beer Bear? Brewster the Beer Bear? Buzz? I mean, obviously, with Betty next to him and Syphilis wandering past, we can’t have the bear there not knowing how to introduce himself.

Taking name suggestions now.

With love,

 

 

 

P.S. This is what my children do when I tell them to stay out of the kitchen for 15 minutes so I can take pictures of an artificially CLEAN space:

Chemistry experiments. “Stay out and keep things clean for 15 MINUTES ONLY” = CHEMISTRY experiments.

We Woolseys, I tell you; we are GREAT at following the rules.

P.P.S. Also, yes, that is our Christmas tree. And yes, it is the tail end of February. And no. No, we have no plans to take it down soon.

P.P.P.S. There are last-minute spots available for the Mindfulness Retreat, March 9-12. If you’re needing rest, respite and a reset at the lovely Oregon Coast for the weekend, please come! Given our current political climate, I cannot think of a better time to relax with friends, new and old, have lovely meals prepared for us, and learn how to be present in our world with curiosity instead of judgement. Contact me if you have any questions about this retreat! If you’re a teacher or minister, ask about the teacher/ministry discount, please. I’m at fivekidsisalotofkids@gmail.com. Or you can contact Maggie, the retreat coordinator, at petersonm1@spu.edu. I would LOVE to hang out with you for the weekend!

 

Is This Normal? Some Thoughts on Love. Also, Dogs. Also, Bodies.

Feb 23 2017

I took my rings off the other night.

My wedding ring. My engagement ring. The two stackable rings I wear with them that I bought in a fit of extravagance for $12 at a fancy strip mall with immaculate sidewalks and enormous, Christmas-tree-lit palm trees in Southern California after an hour of agonizing over which to pick.

I took off the twisting ivy ring I bought to remind me that I grow fast and strong and have the power to break down huge barriers, at least eventually.

And I took off the filigreed silver ring with a riot of flowers and leaves; the one I bought in Mexico and wear on the middle finger of my right hand. I call it my flip-off ring, even though I’ve only ever flipped off Greg’s back with it, and, much more often, myself, usually in reproach for saying something Self decided was stupid. Self is all, “Stupid, stupid, stupid. JEEZ, Beth. WHY DO YOU SAY WORDS OUT LOUD? TO PEOPLE?” Then Self pulls out the flip-off ring, points it at me, and waves it around. In other words, Self can be a real asshole. Self and I are working on this.

I took my rings off the other night, but not because I didn’t want to wear them. I did. It’s just that my fingers felt jittery. Scritchy. Like they buzzed with constant, tiny electric currents. Bees under the skin. Restless Finger Syndrome? I don’t know. I just know the rings had to go away for my fingers to survive; strange sensory attacks that subsided when the rings came off. I took them off again just now, triggered, I suppose, by frantic finger memories.

Is this normal? Is this a thing the average person experiences? Or is this a symptom of mental illness? That’s a question to which I never know the answer. Not ever. About rings and other things. Does it make a difference that I also had to put on a tank top because my forearms turned scritchy, too? That the buzzing traveled through wrists and up my arms like something both alien and organic? Foreign and ingrained? Like the buzzing is the Borg and like resistance is futile? Does that make it more likely to be an illness issue? Or is this just part of having a body? I’ve never been particularly good at this part of being human — the How to Have a Body part. Why do some people seem to know how to have a body? And how to work a brain? Or are those myths, and it’s all a mystery to everyone? How is it possible to be past 40 and not know?

I took my rings off the other night.

I took the rings off, and then my shirt, and I wore a tank top and naked fingers and somewhat ugly panties which were lacy but worn, and I pulled my knees to my chin in my chair and stared at my computer screen and didn’t know what to say.

I didn’t have Writers’ Block. The opposite, maybe? Too many scritches and jitters and too many words pushing against the dam.

Too many thoughts about the state of the church and what it looks like to leave.

Too many thoughts about the state of our country and what it means to be both fierce and kind in the world right now.

Too many thoughts on why I can’t be silent these days, even though people tell me I’m complaining, or I am not respecting authority, or I should just “let it all sort itself out” and “see what happens” which appears to be something only privileged people say to each other because their lives aren’t on the line.

Too many thoughts about which wins when the choice must be made — ferocity or kindness — and which is the way of Love. Both, I bet; it’s just a matter of when to flip over the temple tables in a righteous rage because politics has married religion to make profits of gold, versus when to eschew the Sabbath rules to heal the sick, and give sight to the blind, and harvest food for the hungry, and to lift our neighbors’ oxen out of the ditch where they’ve fallen.

It’s rule breaking, either way — ferocity or kindness — to choose the side of the vulnerable. So often the way of Love, though. Over and over, the way of Love.

I stared at the screen the other night with too many words in my head, and no rings on my fingers, and I gave up quickly because I’m working these days on being gentle to Self even when Self isn’t gentle back.

Instead of writing, I put my computer to sleep, and I got in the bathtub and turned the water to hot.

I read a novel that was unedifying and captivating and perfect.

I listened to squabbling children whose arguments were repetitive and endless.

And I let the dog lick my toes and gaze at me with consuming adoration. I thought my dog should give Self lessons in Love, and lessons to the world, too, though the world will accuse her of being too affectionate, and too in-your-face, and too unable to understand the bigger issues at hand.

I took my rings off the other night. I don’t know if I did it because I’m ill or because I’m human. Probably both, though. Probably both.

Love to you, friends,

To Tomicka Who Works the Night Shift at the Crowne Plaza

Feb 8 2017

 

Dear Tomicka Who Works the Night Shift at the Crowne Plaza at the Seattle Airport,

I don’t know how many frantic phone calls you field every night. I don’t know how many of those come from mommies who are too far away from their kids to help them. I don’t know how many times you have to calm them the heck down and tell them not to worry because you’ve got this. I don’t know if this was old hat to you or a first. All I know is, you handled it like a rock star.

My kid was stranded the other night at the airport with a flight cancelled due to snow, which you already know because we talked about it on the phone while we became best friends. She’d flown to Seattle from Oregon on her way back to college in Hawaii, but, after waiting inside the airport 6 hours and another 3 hours sitting on the plane, the flight was cancelled, the passengers returned to the gate, and she was stuck. Tired from a long day of travel and delays, and stuck.

Now, yes. My kid is 18 and a half, so technically an adult. But she’s a BRAND NEW adult — a baby adult — and, perhaps more importantly, her mommy is new to having an adult, so we’re just learning the ropes around here. She could have handled herself. She would have done fine. But she was traveling alone for the first time, and it was snowing buckets outside, and the next flight wasn’t leaving ’til morning, so MOMMY TO THE RESCUE, right?? Except I couldn’t really rescue her. I could only try to find a place for her to sleep while she navigated the rest on her own.

I booked her a room at the Crowne Plaza.

We usually stay at a different hotel at the Seattle airport. One with crumbling asphalt in the parking lot and a very long, bent chain link fence. They serve horrible coffee with powdered creamer, and the carpets are stained, but the rooms are clean and cheap, and, frankly, that’s all we usually look for in a hotel.

But I booked her a room at the Crowne Plaza. The price was $50 more than we usually spend, but I wanted a place that made her feel safe. I wanted a place that made me feel safe. A clean room, not as cheap, but safe. I assume this is what people talk about when they say they have “standards.” Ours are usually lower than other people’s, but this time, no. Crowne Plaza it was.

I called you after I made the booking because I know hotels don’t usually allow 18-year-olds to book rooms, and I needed to make sure you’d let her check in. It was 11:00pm, dark with flurries furiously falling, and Abby was making her way to the hotel shuttles. She was texting me every minute to ask if she was in the right place. To ask if I was sure.

“This is the Crowne Plaza, Tomicka speaking. How may I help you?”

“Tomicka? My name is Beth. My daughter, Abby, just had her flight canceled so I booked her a room with you. She’s 18.”

“Well… our policy doesn’t allow 18-year-olds to stay alone here…”

I interrupted you. I was maybe a tiny bit frantic. “But my kid is STRANDED AT THE AIRPORT, Tomicka, and she’s ALONE, so WE NEED A SOLUTION. What is our solution here??”

“It’s OK,” you said. And “DO NOT PANIC.” Which sometimes I need to hear, even if I say back, “I AM NOT PANICKING, TOMICKA. I AM VERY CALM.”

“Let me finish,” you said, and I took a deep breath which was really just me preparing TO FIGHT YOU TO THE DEATH for a room for my child, but then you said these words to me, “Beth. Listen. I am a mommy. I will take care of your daughter. Although our policy doesn’t allow 18-year-olds to check in alone, I will call my manager right now to get an exception approved. I am on this. We can make this happen. I’ll call you back in 10 minutes.”

Listen, Tomicka. When my kid was tiny, we had one rule if she got lost. I drilled it into her over and over.

“If you get lost, what do you do?” I’d ask. “FIND A MOMMY,” she’d reply.

Find a mommy. That was our rule. Because I knew, if my little lost one wandered up to a mommy with a stroller, or a mommy handing out goldfish crackers at a park, or a mommy pushing a kid on a swing, and said “I am lost,” the mommy would protect her. The mommy would help her find her way back to me. Oh sure, the mommy’s reaction after that could go either way — she might be amazingly sympathetic and pat me on the back and say “there, there” while I cried out the adrenaline of losing my kid, or she might be mean and ask me what kind of a mother I am, anyway to lose my child like this? — but I knew she would keep my kids safe before that reaction. And that’s all I needed to know. One rule: Find a Mommy.

You called me back 10 minutes later, just like you said. And also like you said, you’d fixed everything. My kid could check in with the caveat that she couldn’t order room service because they serve alcohol, so delivery would be restricted on her account. “Don’t worry, though,” you said again, “Here’s a number to call if you want to order her a pizza or something. She’s probably hungry.” She was. She hadn’t eaten for 12 hours. She was tired and she was hungry. “BUT IF YOU ORDER,” you clarified, “make sure you have them deliver it here to the front desk. It’s probably fine to have them deliver to her room, but she’s 18 and traveling alone, so let’s just have them meet here where I am.”

 

“And listen,” you said, “ANYTHING she needs tonight — anything at all — you have her come find Tomicka, OK? I’m a mommy, too. That’s what we do.”

That’s when I said I love you and that you’re my best friend forever.

People ask me all the time, with all the terrible things happening around the world, why I stubbornly think people are good. Why I think there’s still hope. Why I insist that people I haven’t met in real life are, too, my very real friends and not virtual at all. You, Tomicka, proved my point. I keep thinking that way because people like you exist. People who look out for others. People who find common ground. A community of mommies. A community of momrades. Which is why, even if we never meet face-to-face, I still will always be,

Your best friend forever,

 

 

 

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this post misspelled Tomicka’s name as Tanika (as can still be seen in text photos).

On Being Mindful. Or on Putting on Clothes. Whichever Comes First.

Feb 6 2017

It’s Greg’s birthday today so I’m seriously considering changing out of the pajamas I’ve worn for 10 days while caring for sick kids (and a sick me), and changing into regular clothes. I mean, it’s mid-afternoon, and I haven’t actually taken anything resembling action to Put on Regular Clothes, but it’s a possibility, is what I’m saying. Also, by “regular clothes,” I mean leggings and a t-shirt. Possibly a bra. If he’s really lucky, I’ll wear my fancy bra; the one that’s not stretched out in the back, and doesn’t have the fine pieces of elastic erratically fraying like they’ve been fried in a horrible electrical accident, and whose underwire isn’t about to snap, making one boob significantly saggier than the other. It is, after all, important in any marriage to keep romance alive! Also, birthdays are special around here.

I texted Greg to see if he wanted to pick up a few boxes of scalloped potatoes, which are his favorite, so I can make those for dinner along with ham from a locally-raised pig because we believe in Both/And around here; both delicious, preservative-laden, dye-infused, freeze-dried, simple-carbohydrate potato products from a box which we will rehydrate with yummy, yummy saturated fat (read: All the Butter), AND hand-fed, gently-raised, locally-produced, happy, organic ham. Maybe I’ll find some freezer-burned green beans to microwave so my kids will have a green vegetable to refuse to eat, too. That sounds fun. Happy Birthday, Greg!

We’re hanging in there, friends, during this weird, weird season. But we’re doing it by taking one thing at a time, deciding what’s actually critical right now, letting everything else go, and being gentle with ourselves when we drop balls and mess things up and live in the muck and mire, muddy and mangled. We are tired. Donald Trump has been president for 17 days, and we have been sick for 10 of those. Our Christmas tree is still up, and we have no plans to change that anytime soon. We are working our usual 3-4 jobs. Our kids’ book reports and science assignments are late. My son just spilled Gatorade all over the living room floor, which WAS NOT PUKE, so HOORAY! And we spent the night on the phone with our college kid who was stranded in Seattle trying to fly back to college in the midst of a snow storm.

Yes, we’re tired — like All of America, I suspect — but we are trying to be kind to each other because changing the world starts at home with tiny acts of kindness and choosing to lay the infinite opportunities for bitterness aside. Some days, all we have the energy and wherewithal to do is put on clothes. Or make scalloped potatoes. Or just breathe; one breath in, one breath out, in and out, over and over. This, too, though, is an act of love. This breathing in madness. This remaining in the midst. It’s a choice to find magic in the mess. An insight into grace in the grime.

So, friends, if you are here, too, in this messy space where the only thing you’re doing right now is taking one breath at a time, welcome. We are not alone.

With love,

 

 

 

P.S. I tend to be more of a doer than someone who knows how to rest and take respite. I react more than I respond. But I am attempting to learn to be more attentive. To take in what the world sends me and to let it flow back out; in, through, and out. A conduit for Love. A conductor for Grace. A reflector of Light. I am better at it some days than others.

Along with some of my most trusted people, I’m trying a new thing next month when it comes to retreats. As you may know, I have hosted writing and spiritual formation retreats in the past; the Magic in the Mess Writing Retreat (next one in May), and the Grace in the Grime Spiritual Formation Retreat. I love both. I’m also asking myself, though, in the midst of what we’re experiencing as a nation and a world; as mothers, mud-dwellers and magic-makers; as humans who want to learn how to listen well and love much, how I can HELP? How can we, collectively, learn to reset so we can SEE each other for who we all are, with curiosity instead of judgement? Out of conversations like this — what does the world need most right now and what do we need in order to not just survive it but build something better and brighter — the Mindfulness Retreat was born.

Simply put, mindfulness is taking care of our nervous system. It is noticing what’s happening right now. It is using curiosity instead of judgment, for others, and, perhaps especially, for ourselves. It is digesting the intensity of being human. Schools throughout the country are learning how valuable it is to teach this practice to kids; I think adults like me need it just as much. On March 9-12, just over a month away, at the Oregon Coast, we are going to offer our first Mindfulness Retreat. Unlike the spiritual formation retreat, this one is secular. Like all of our retreats, it’s open to people of all backgrounds who need rest, respite, and a safe space to learn in a community of friends. Also, we have a shit-ton of fun. I hope to see you there. You can find all the information about the retreat, including how to register, here.

P.P.S. Sorry I didn’t give you more advance notice about the retreat. See the rest of this post for reasons why.

P.P.P.S. Not to brag, but I just put on deodorant. #WINNING #HappyBirthdayGreg

 

What to Do When the Needs Are ENDLESS

Feb 4 2017

The needs of this world are endless, and I cannot meet every one of them, which I hate. I particularly hate it right now while I watch refugees suffer, and our LGBTQ neighbors suffer, and people of color suffer, and women suffer, and my children with disability suffer, and more, and more, and more. Nearly every day, I resent Magical Jesus for failing to issue me the Wand of Solving Everything or make me Benevolent Queen of the Universe with Awesome Cosmic Power, and then I remember that Magical Jesus isn’t real and didn’t come to issue wands, damn it.

Real Jesus and I are working on this tiny bitter attitude I have toward Magical Jesus.

Real Jesus makes more progress on some days than others.

Real Jesus, when I’m willing to listen, reminds me that he came as Love Incarnate and to show us how to love one another in turn. Which means we have to do the hard work of love. And I don’t mean to complain here — really, I don’t — but I feel like Real Jesus could have made this all just a LITTLE easier. (Psst…see: idea above about the magic wand, Jesus.)

It’s just … interesting … these days the way love looks. The way love takes shape. The way love, if we listen very, very hard, unmakes and remakes us, and unmakes and remakes our boundaries, too.

I’ve been in my pajamas for 7 days now. Sick kids + a sick me will do that to a girl. Plus I like my pajamas.

I’m tired right about now. In fact, I look like this this very minute:

No make-up. Wonky hair. Frankly, I feel good about this choice. I plan to change nothing about it in the foreseeable future.

But I have spent the week wondering, as I suspect all of us do, whether I’m doing enough to meet the needs of our hurting world.

Which is when I ran across a blog post by my friend Doreen called “the personal cost of living on high alert: wringing out the sponge that is my self.” Friends, I’m telling you right now, if you, like me, are living on high alert, and, well, also like me, you don’t plan to stop anytime soon, you kind of totally have to read this. I’m going to put the beginning right here, and then you need to click on the link to read the rest, because then she tells us about the sponge… and you need to read about the sponge. Like, if we’re going to live through the days to come, and if we’re going to love each other well, and if we’re going to spend our time defending the vulnerable and creating safe spaces, and if we’re going to be cleaning out our kids’ puke buckets while we do All the Things in our pajamas without a magic wand, we NEED TO KNOW ABOUT THE SPONGE.

I have a million things to do. Writing deadlines, research to review, thank you cards to write, parties to plan, news to catch up on, causes to research, and, and, and. It’s all a lot and it’s all things I’ve promised myself I’ll do or things I’ve promised others I’ll do or things I feel as though the-world-and-everyone-in-it NEED me to do. Seriously, there are so many needs right now. Needs that pull at my mind and my heart. Needs to feel and to process and to know and to act. So, a bit ago, I closed my laptop, went into my kitchen and roasted a squash. I went in to get a glass of water but the squash was right there and slicing it brought me close to the earth. While it was cooking I lit my favorite candles and got out old calendars to cut and fashion into valentines. I tossed some nuts and spices and quinoa in with the soft flesh of the roasted gourd and taped and glue sticked and sharpied the most rag-tag valentines ever made. I feel a lot better now.

More than any other time that I can personally remember, we are all on high alert. With the world feeling topsy turvy and fear, anger, and grief all around and within us, we stoke the fire of our overwhelm by trying to make sure that we are informed and active. We put ourselves to sleep with the news and wake up with it. We scroll through endless Facebook posts, finding ourselves falling down rabbit holes of discontent and disagreement, even though we’ve promised ourselves we’ll stop. Out of a sense of powerlessness and insecurity we buttress our weary selves by clinging to the few things we feel that we can control or we become hyper vigilant, being sure that our call is to attend to whatever need we see.

Let me remind us: The need is not the call. The call is the call.

What I mean by this is that every one of us has a unique part we are made to play in this world. We are who we are by intention. I choose to believe that came to be by a Creator in whose image ALL OF US are made. Even with radically different how-we-came-to-be stories, however, I believe that we can universally hold to the idea that each of us has specific and special resources that we are to invest in this crazy thing called life where ever we happen to live it. The trouble is, when we are tired, scared, overwhelmed, under-informed, in denial, or rushingrushingrushing from one thing to the next, we have no way of being with our selves intimately enough to hear what our unique call is. We know what we wish we were good or skilled at. We know what seems most important based upon that which is in front of us (or that which we put in front of ourselves). We attend to our surroundings and the news and our friends/family/neighbors in hyper vigilant ways, trying to ascertain what we should be doing or thinking or feeling in order to make change in the world/be liked/get by. So we keep researching, doing, acting but we never really feel we’ve arrived on a meaningful or sustainable path.

When we feel like this, and there is no break on the foreseeable horizon, it is likely time to step away… [READ THE REST HERE]

Go read the rest.

Did you read the rest?

OK.

Here’s the thing: I’m not stopping now, nor am I stopping anytime soon, in doing the things I feel called to do. HELL, NO. But I needed Doreen’s reminders that a) I am NOT called to meet ALL the need by myself, b) I have a unique part I am made to play, so I’d best prepare to play that part very, very well and not get distracted by all the rest, and c) I can better play my part and answer my call when I take the time to step away… for an hour, for two, or for 20 minutes… to wring out my sponge.

Fiercely, lovingly, tirefully yours,

 

 

 

P.S. I’m going to go take a bath and read a trashy novel. The end.