Friday, December 18, 2015

Woman v Wild: Doubletime

Caesar weed--one of the invasives
After my wandering weekend, I had one more section of treeline that I really wanted to clear before Christmas. Our Christmas tree stands in the largest window onto our backyard and that window frames this particular section of forest. But this week before Christmas happens to be super busy (surprise!), so I resigned myself to not necessarily getting everything I wanted done. That's okay.

Well, my husband surprised me by using some of his time off to help me get it done. With his long reach, he cut down some high Brazilian pepper branches I could not have reached--branches loaded with Spanish moss. Seeing that cleared forest through the windows for the next few weeks will be a great gift to ourselves.

Big A. kept telling me that he had no idea we could do so much on our own. I told him that I think of myself as a termite. I take one little bite at a time and, before long, something that was there is no longer there. Just as I remind myself, I reminded him that this is a zen operation. Yes, we had a goal, but if we just do the task we feel like doing at the moment, sooner or later they'll all get done.

And in other amazing news, we finally found someone to start cutting the larger invasive pepper trunks down. It won't be the clean sweep that we hoped for, but we'll get rid of the one most entwined with the oak. One bite at a time, we're going to clear this forest of menacing non-native plants.


Check out the drooping palmetto branch in the left of each shot for a little help with the perspective.

And Yet Again Wonderful

I've written before about how much I love our Girl Scout troop's annual caroling night at our local hospice house.When I knew that S. had chosen to join the circus, literally, and would have no time for scouting this year, I admit I thought about how much I'd miss our caroling night.

Luckily, the troop invited us to come with them and, miraculously, it fell on a night when S. did not have practice. To my surprise--though, really, why should I be surprised?--when I asked the kids if they'd like to go caroling at hospice, they both said, "Yes!"

As worn out as they feel right now, the idea of caroling still generated the level of enthusiasm they usually reserve for ice cream. They really get it, I thought.

The sun always seems to set in splendor for us on these nights and this year was no exception. We just had to stop on the road in to take a picture. We drove the rest of the way, debating how many times we'd walked or run along the road at the 5k fundraiser just a few weeks before.

The troop has many younger girls this year, but the season and the reason worked their magic. With their fun Christmas hats and smiling faces, they walked quietly in. They spoke softly and sang sweetly, as always. For the first time this year, the staff ushered us down the hall to sing in one of the rooms. Two cheerful choruses of "We Wish You a Merry Christmas" in the room wrapped up the caroling. Then the staff invited the girls back to the common room to have snacks, a thank-you treat they loved!

The children and parents chatted quietly with the staff until the wiggles and giggles began to break through, then the adults started the farewells and led the younger ones outside. Excitement bubbled over, but I know, especially for our family, a deep gratitude filled our hearts.

I'm a "just a mom" now, so the current leaders helped the girls. I hung back, happy to see them all interact. But I couldn't help wondering what story we had been invited into when the girls sang "We Wish You a Merry Christmas."

A little over a year ago, two summers ago, part of our family's story had played out in another hospice house, where other dedicated people cared for my husband's father during his last days. I couldn't help thinking how much he enjoyed simple, sweet moments during that time. With a full heart, I thought how much he would have loved hearing S. play Pachelbel's Canon so beautifully after the caroling.

Two years ago, I felt presumptuous writing about hospice. Now, having a more personal understanding of their work, I prayed with all my being that someone found that simple comfort in the children's voices.

Later, one of the leaders told me. She shared a bit of the story we'd become part of. The man who had asked the girls to sing had been living at hospice with his wife. She had passed away the day before, so he was packing to go home. He didn't want to go.

We can't know if the caroling eased his heart for a moment. I wish we could. I do know that it was an act of love. I know it marked an early lesson in sending light into the world for some little ones; it marked a return to the simple art of sharing light for some of us older ones. It was a living prayer, a powerful reminder that each moment offers us a chance to choose what we will share.

Let's help each other share light in the coming weeks.

Hospice published a sweet article about the troop this year. You can read it here if you would like.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Woman v Wild: Wandering

Gerber daisies
On my journey away from stress, I fully accept that my course will wander. I will not "stay on task." I'm happy about that.

I took a weekend--and maybe a few extra days--away from conquering the wild woods behind the house. Instead, I focused on the front of the house. It got a little tough because I do it so often. A task is a task; it seems like a chore is a task done over and over!

A critter den
So I gave myself permission to take my time, to do things in a different order than I usually do, to stop and savor the little victories. It felt nice. And the house looks fantastic every time I drive up.

Life is good.

Florida fall color

Monday, December 7, 2015

Woman v Wild: Satisfaction

Day 1 Before
Day 1 After

My thoughts wander when I work. So I had some deep thoughts as I unearthed our oak tree and the lovely volunteer schefflera from the deadfall, weeds, and Brazilian peppers.

Credit for my first train of thought goes to a friend who reminded me how much more satisfied we feel when we do work that tangibly improves our lives. I love camping for this very reason--you physically set up your shelter, cook your food, clean up a bit, and then? Then comes the magical time when your family's needs are all met and you can watch the sky roll by overhead. That's satisfaction.

Compare that to modern life. Way back when I first had this thought, we used paper, but you can substitute electrons for paper now. Most of us sit a desk and manage paper/electronic documents for at least part of our day, so we can receive a paper check/direct deposit that we put in the bank, which gives us more paper (money) to take to stores--or we can use the even less tangible credit on our cards.

Granted, there's some satisfaction to be had from bringing home the groceries, stocking the shelves, making a meal. I won't dispute that. But I did once, when S. first started looking around at the world, wonder what grocery shopping looked like through her eyes.

We leave our home box and get in a car box and go to a store box. Then she gets in a cart, which is sort of like a box, and we take boxes--and, yes, frequently recognizable food--off the shelves to put into the cart. Then we take the food boxes out of the cart box to put on the conveyor belt, where someone puts the food boxes in bags and then back into the cart box. Then we transfer everything back out of the store box, out of the cart box and into the car box, then into the house box, where it comes out of bags and goes onto shelves.

Trippy, huh?

After a few days of replacing my electron-pushing with manual labor in the yard, for anywhere from two to six hours, I'm feeling completely different. I'm sleeping better and even dreaming again. The knots in my neck and shoulders have relaxed. I had the biggest surprise today, though, when I drove down to the kids' school to drop something off. I had a fairly tight time window to get it there. As I drove, I kept nervously checking in with myself. What am I forgetting? 

Finally I identified the missing item: panic. I didn't feel panicked. I kept breathing normally, driving happily, singing along to my music. No panic required.

That's satisfying, too.

Day 2--Cleared from the palmetto on the right toward the left and took out some nasty Caesar weed. (They have "hitchhikers" or burrs.)

Bonus--taking the volunteer ferns back from the pool cage netted some to transfer behind the oak tree.

Satisfaction is a tidy pile of firewood--all nice, dry oak deadfall.
Another way to measure success--sheer volume of invasive species removed.

Friday, December 4, 2015

Woman v Wild: Warm-up Edition

I’m taking a sabbatical right now.

There, I said it. Wow. I feel incredibly guilty saying that.

Why is it so hard to say that my husband and I decided my health matters more than my income for six weeks this year? I don’t know, but it is! I am stepping out of the modern American energy sink that we call our lives and spending some time doing things that feed my soul. I’m resting a bit, too, and working REALLY HARD on calming down. That last bit’s sort of a joke. Sort of.

I’m incredibly lucky to be able to do this, so it’s hard to blog about it. Why do we feel better talking about the misfortunes in our lives than the good fortune? I don’t know, so I’m going to do it anyway.

My plan for my sabbatical includes rest, yes, and a relief from the constant stress of absolutely HAVING TO DO TWO THINGS AT ONCE, RIGHT THIS MINUTE, all day long. It also includes hanging with my family and enjoying the holidays. Most of all, though I’m attacking the wild woods. I have a plan to reduce the massive jungle of invasive plants in my backyard, one branch at a time.*

This time of year, being outside sounds wonderful. Florida in the winter actually feels the way I think summer should feel, so I’m excited to be out in the sun and away from the electronics. So that’s healthy, right?

I’m also highly motivated to restore the natural beauty of our backyard because we lost the fight for the cow field. For twelve years, I’ve walked the half mile out of our neighborhood to go see the cow field when I need nature. Those twenty acres of pastureland have been my touchstone, the place that persuades me that humanity is not a blight on the planet. Well, sometime next year, humanity will be putting a high density apartment complex surrounded by walls on those twenty acres of beauty. So…

I need a place to see the beauty of nature and restore my faith that humanity is not a blight on the planet.

I also have a strong symbolic motivation for improving the view from the back of our house. More than half of the windows in our house look out onto the backyard, including the ones in the great room and the master bedroom. Since I work at home, it is my view of the world most of the day. Some of you may remember that the endlessly growing wall of green invasive plants servedas a backdrop for my postpartum depression eleven years ago. Its summer growth reminds me of that time. Taking that down for good will feel good. Really good. Great, in fact.

So, next time I’ll post about my start on the great green wall of invasive plants. Today, I have pictures of my warm-up project—pressure washing our ancient driveway. No, it’s not perfect now, but I chiseled off a layer of dirt, fungus, and mold about as thick as a coat of paint. I accomplished something that tangibly made our lives better. I took care of something that has nagged at me for months.

It felt good. Really good.

*Our backyard merges into a preserve, which we truly appreciate. We have permission to remove the invasive plants from the preserve--for those of you who are interested in such things, they are mostly Brazilian peppers and Caesar weed.  

Before--doesn't look too bad in this shot...

After--doesn't look too great in this shot...

During--now the difference shows!

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Writing in Water

I got my car washed today. I wanted to, but I didn't want to.

You see, on Sunday our whole family pitched in and worked. I mean, we Worked.

Little A. got a jump on all of us by waking up early and picking everything up off his floor. He told us that he set a goal to work until 7:00, but he got so interested that he didn't look at the clock until 7:15!

Then the kids helped me make breakfast--the little guy did sausages, his sister did scrambled eggs, I took care of the coffee and coffee cake. After breakfast, Big A. and S. cleaned all the windows and the porch screens while Little A. and I worked on the problem areas in his room. He stuck to it like a trooper. And the clean windows looked amazing!

While we ate, I couldn't say enough about how much the clean windows and screens changed my outlook. Remember that I work from home, so my view of the world comes almost entirely through those windows. I went from a dusty view that felt like prison to windows so clear that they didn't even seem there. I raved about it!

After lunch, S. did a homework project with a friend while Little A. worked outside with his dad. Our eight-year-old son, remembering how I raved about the windows, washed my car for me while his dad did other chores.

Now, my car started filthy. I've been meaning to wash it for a while. And Little A. tackled it with soap, water, and gusto. Of course, I thanked him profoundly--when his wet, wiggly, bathing-suited self came in to tell me and then again when, after dark, I pulled my car into the garage.

The full impact of the present hit me the next morning when I pulled out to take the kids to the bus stop. The still ridiculously bright Florida sun hit my windows and they were...white. Not solid white, of course, but streaks in places and water spots in others and one particularly lovely swirly spot. The best part was when Little A. came out of the house to get in the car. He took a look at the window on his car door and said, "Oh, shoot! I forgot to rinse this window!"

I said, "Don't worry. Maybe I can rinse it off later today." Meanwhile I slyly used the wipers and spray to clean the front windshield so I wouldn't hit anything on the way to the bus.

Little A. said, "Okay. But just this one window."

I waited until the following day to run the car through the car wash. I honestly don't think he noticed. I think I know why. In his vision, he made my car spotless. And it is. And that's the way it will remain in my heart, too.

So that's why I both really wanted to get my car washed and really didn't.

The best part of it all? The kids had been getting snippy and snarly after four days of vacation. After working with us all day Sunday, they turned completely around. I'm making a mental note to write about that someday--how kids are meant to work with and emulate and strive to be adults. But that's another blog for another day.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

The Army of Love

I’ve watched the world’s reaction to last week’s attacks unfold with a sense of bafflement.

Are we really debating whether we should pray or light a candle or hold a space or raise a glass for the attacked? Anyone who does any of those adds love to the world. How can that be wrong?

Are we really shaming people for embracing images that might seem to prioritize one attack over another? Whatever flag or image reminds us to pray, light a candle, hold a space, or raise a glass—in love—adds to the love in the world. How can that be wrong?

Are we really debating whether we will change our behavior, our values, our essence, because a small percentage of the world turns to violence to force us to do so? Because—be very clear about this—if we turn away from love because we fear violence, the terrorists will succeed.

Love, the difficult, demanding, transforming verb that it is, is a choice. To love, we must choose to love. If fear waits downhill from us, where one slip, one tumble, one misstep can send us sliding into it, love waits above us. We must climb, strive, reach, and struggle up toward love much of the time.

In the wake of terror, induced by terrorist attacks, it’s easy to slip into fear. It’s easy to turn on those who react differently to the attacks, to those who think differently than we do, to those who are more vulnerable than we are. It’s easy to feel helpless in our fear and turn that fear into anger.

Fight against that fear. Raise your eyes above you and climb toward love. Speak truth in love. Look around you and join hands with the army of love in our world.

  • Love with the warriors for love that are our first responders, our military, our caregivers, our teachers.
  • Love with everyone who cares for the young, the old, the ill, everyone who goes on despite being ill—love them, love with them.
  • Love with people who care for animals and people who care for growing things.
  • Love our world with everyone who reduces, reuses, and recycles.
  • Love with those who love, with families everywhere—parents, grandparents, adoptive parents, foster parents, and all those who step in when none of those can.
  • Love with the poets, dreamers, and visionaries who show us how we can love and the social activists who lead us up the mountain of change toward that love.
  • Love with those who clean, repair, and maintain our world; love with those who invent ways to make it a better world.
  • Love with those who create beauty.
  • Love with those who believe in duty and responsibility and integrity.
  • Love with those who work. Love with those who give. Love with those love.
  • Love with those warriors of love who cannot love right now, those wounded in the battle, those lost from their army of love.

I’d like to share with you a poem I wrote after 9/11.

I’ve never done anything with it because it’s rough. It’s irregular. No one would ever consider it tight or well-constructed. Too simple in places, too insubstantial in others, it remains unedited. I don’t know how to edit it.

But I offer it to you as sign that love mattered most of all then and love still matters most of all. Love. 


Against a score martyred to hate
We send an army of thousands
Martyrs for love

Those who woke and worked that morning
Loving their families
Loving the skills they shared
Loving the lives they touched
Loving, as their lives were stolen

Those in doubt, who chose
Loving those left behind
Loving each other
Loving people they never knew
Loving, as they surely died for others

Those who knew and faced the danger
Loving their comrades
Loving their strength
Loving victim and survivor
Loving, as they offered their lives

Those with the longest, hardest call
Loving their children
Loving their country
Loving children in countries not their own
Loving, risked their lives for freedom

So many to prove
That though nineteen men died
As disciples of hate
More love exists
Than this world dreamed could be
Love, the true foundation of the land of the free

Friday, November 13, 2015

The School Store

This year, with both kids in one school, I have time in my schedule to be a part of their community. So I'm volunteering at the school store. For a couple of hours every other week, I hang in a haven of school supplies, eccentric erasers, tiny treasures, and awesome individuals. I love it. 

What do I love about it?

1.       Being in a place where no two kids dress alike. None of them. They’re individuals in every sense.
2.       Watching two best friends “split” a dime, buying a five-cent eraser each.
3.       Where else can you teach five preteens how to open a fan, Regency-style? And then have a discussion of how lucky we are that women can speak their minds these days, not just wave their fans…
4.       They’re good kids—I generally know the prices, but they tell me the right cost each time.
5.       The kids like my corny puns.
6.       I learn things like what type of lead a Papermate Sharpwriter takes and how to install it.
7.       The smell of coins clutched in a grubby fist. No, I really don’t love that smell, just what it means—the saving, the planning, the precious coins exchanged for long-desired treasure.
8.       Someone put a bumper sticker on the school golf cart. “Dissent is the highest form of patriotism. Howard Zinn”
9.       I get to Google things like the rarest Pokemon card in the world (1998 Pikachu Illustrator card) and if it’s worth $2 million (no, just $50-100,000).
10.   I sold a bouncy ball, a bag of marbles and a spiky rubber bracelet to someone who needed to make a model of a plant cell.
11.   Because you know it has to go to eleven… My kids like to see me there!

Monday, October 19, 2015

A Good Workout

You know you've done an awesome workout when...
1.       It’s fun right up to the point of muscle failure.
2.       Before you’re even done, you already start planning how much you’ll have to move for the rest of the day.
3.       Taking off your compression gear afterward feels darn near impossible.
4.       You absolutely have to take a shower for public health reasons, but you start to wonder if you really need to go to all the trouble of getting dressed again.
5.       At some point in that first hour post-workout, your entire being screams, “I want a pizza now!” (It’s a really good idea to ignore this feeling.)
6.       You line up glasses of water like other people line up shots on a bar—so you won’t have to keep getting up.
7.       Then you tell yourself to get up and move anyway—the longer you wait, the worse it’s gonna hurt.
8.       You wonder if work will consider “jelly legs” or “noodle arms” legitimate excuses to take a day off.
9.       You can’t wait to do it again—in a day or two!
10.   In a day or two, you feel awesome!


I'm a modern parent; it goes without saying that I have a lot going on.

By nature, I like to delve deeply into whatever I do. I like to do one thing intensely, then relax intensely, then do the next thing. I'm discovering that I have too many balls in the air to give myself that luxury.

It started when the kids still took naps. You learn pretty quickly that, when naptime's over, it's over. Whatever you got done is all you get to do until the next day. Then again, the kids and I shared long, lazy days back then. Maybe some days the kids needed me a lot, but we pretty much determined our own schedule.

Now the kids' activities determine the size of my blocks of time. And, in some weird twist of quirkiness, I now have a huge block of time alone each day, from nine to four, but I'm finding I have to deliberately divide it up in order to keep those balls flying. If I leave any project too long, I miss deadlines.

Look at our yard, for example. Well, don't look at it actually. Oh, go ahead.

We've had a long, wet summer here in southwest Florida. Stuff has grown. And grown. And grown. If I tried to do my usual One Long Day of Yardwork, I'd end up spending One Long Week. I can't afford to drop my other balls for that long.

So I'm teaching myself patience. One hour--or so--a day. I do as much as I can in the yard, then go inside and do my editing work. Then I do household management. Then I pick up the kids.

I have to be satisfied--or even a little proud--with incremental progress. A little at a time. One tiny step per day. Life is a journey, not a destination.

Days 1-3: Nearly finished--just needs mulch!
"To do" as of Day 3

Partly done on Day 4

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

These Boots

So, it’s almost too perfect—one of our first mother-and-middle-schooler moments came while buying boots for the first dance.

S. had her first dance a little while back, complete with a scheduling conflict requiring backflips to get her there, a Western theme, and a last minute trip to buy boots. I have absolutely no idea what went down at the dance—she says it was fun—but I loved the dance preparation.

The kids go to the same school now and have the same schedule, so I have more time to work, but less time with each of them individually. Like all growing and changing, it’s a tradeoff. Now that I have a nearly normal work day, I’m trying to keep nights and weekends for family time. That is awesome! But I miss that quiet time and space to hear each of them, to focus fully, to uni-task, if you will.

So it felt great to go to the mall on a school night, compare styles of suede ankle boots, text Dad for an opinion and roll our eyes over his tactful but less than helpful advice, wear the new boots out of the store, and then grab a soft pretzel. Well, technically, I bought the pretzel for her, but I took tax. I always take a little for tax. Really, they need to learn.

And no, I don’t mind that she’s wearing boots just one size smaller than I wear or that, when she tried on a pair with two-inch heels, we were nearly the same height. I love that I can put my arm around her waist and walk with her, just as I have with each of my sisters—both now taller than I am.

After all, her new boots? They’re made for walking. They’re perfect for strutting, for giggling, for striding, for spinning, for exploring, and for walking out into the big wide world.

The amazing thing about the whole process turns out to be what she brings into our home. Yes, she’s taking her first steps on her journey toward independence—on her journey out of our home and away from us. Just as she should! But I never expected to feel so blessed by how much she shares with us as she does.

Just tonight, after A DAY, one of those days that had me counting minutes until bedtime, she said, “Can I play you something I figured out on the piano?”

I said, “Sure.”

She started to play and my heart stood still. She played beautifully, recreating Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” by ear. As many times as I’ve heard that song, her performance opened my heart.

I love her. I love her heart. I love her gift. I love that she takes the things her dad and I give her, expands them, and gives them back to us.

I love that she’s growing up.