Monday, July 14, 2014

Party in Motion

We danced.




Every year comes with friends to celebrate.


Our hearts are full.



Happy summer, happy life.






Thursday, July 10, 2014

Active Peace?

Someone recently asked the question: Where have you experienced the most peace?  Is it now a memory that has become your "happy" place?

My response is a contradiction.  When we think of the word peace we think of the glassy, undisturbed surface of a body of water, or the stillness of the morning at the break of dawn.  We think of times of silence, worship, prayer.  We think of meditation, sleep, rest or even death.

Yet the most expansive peace I ever felt happened like this:

It was my first trip to the outer banks.  I brought Emily with me to celebrate my graduation from college.  We rented a shabby but cozy motel room in Nags Head, conveniently situated on the ocean side.  After unpacking our bags and eating a snack, we drove to 7 Eleven for a bundle of firewood and stopped at the fire station for a permit.  Back on the beach after sunset and before our campfire, I became unexpectedly swept up in euphoria.  The energy of the waves charged the atmosphere with invigorating, hair-raising pulses. Swhoosh. Ripple. Pause. Swoosh, thundering crash. Ripple. Pause. Silence. Repeat.

 After dropping the firewood and camp chairs in a heap, I sprinted down the beach, barefoot.  A full moon rose over the Atlantic as the sky deepened from indigo to black.  Emily and I ran together like liberated captives. No one was on the beach to see our inhibitions fall away.  Were there crabs in the sand? We were northerners unaware.  Like people who don't fear leaf piles because they are unused to copperheads, our bare feet were unafraid.

That heart-pounding full sprint under a pristine white moon brought the complete surrender and release that allowed peace to fill my being. I have spent my life fighting hard instead of waiting for it to arrive on the tide; struggling for needs, for the impulsive something I think I desperately want, for the something that needs to be done.  If the laundry ever gets caught up, it's because I'm literally fighting my way through it.  If I need to write for a grade, I'm battling all of my ignorance, all of my insecurity, everyone in the class, the people who write academic jargon, and my professor too.  If I'm working for money, I'm battling the boss, proving I can excel and master the work.  It is a headstrong me that succeeds.

On that night on the beach, after five hours of driving (and battling my way through motorcycles...it was Bike Week! How nerdy I felt driving next to hogs in Grandma's yellow Buick!) instead of being exhausted I was completely energized, so awake and alive I thought I might ascend from the sand and fly.  Which I was able to actually do, the following day, when we went hang-gliding together on Jockey's Ridge.  But even though actual flight was intensely euphoric, it was that sprint on the beach under the moon that brought the most complete and extensively deep peace. During the running, and afterward.

I've not been able to experience that depth (Or height? Which direction is peace? Submersion or ascension?) while meditating or praying, sitting quietly in silence, or sleeping.  Peace happened when I was absolutely the most active my body can be. And it happened after the marathon of paper writing at Guilford College, a place that nearly broke my spirit with nearly impossible standards of achievement.

This somehow makes perfect sense.  The peacemakers of the world are activists.  They might have meditative or spiritual practices that support the work they do in the world, but mostly, they work incredibly long and grueling hours to help people, sometimes in utterly devastating and dangerous conditions.

What this notion of "active" peace means for me is not to be afraid of doing the work that comes with my life.  It means not being lazy about my writing practice, my parenting, or my relationships.  It means staying focused on my food choices and exercises.  It means not falling into the rut of despair when the work just seems overwhelming and endless.

For me, peace happens during intense sprinting, when I can do nothing else except surrender it all.




Tuesday, July 8, 2014

A Decade of Boyhood

I have a terrible confession.  When Emily was two years old, I was working as a nanny for a family with four children.  The youngest were newborn twins.  The middle child was a boy not much older than Emily.  After caring for five children all day (four who were still in diapers), I would come home and barely have the energy for my own housework and meal prep. Then came a series of migraines that sent me to a dark room, praying for relief from the hard driving freight train in my head and bouts of nausea.

This work was my passion but it was also intensely demanding and stressful.  Though I loved children and was committed to a life of caregiving and teaching, I was drowning in an overload of demands that needed my immediate attention.  This job was also the reason why Emily ended up being an only child for such a long time.

I was also terrified of having a son.

Even though I grew up with two completely loving and wonderful brothers, the idea of parenting a son after my experience with nanny-hood made me inwardly faint.

Eight years later, what I trembled to imagine came true.

But by that time, my whole world had changed.  I had developed an open mind to God's plan, whatever that meant for me.

So God gave me what I feared the most.  When my heart was the most open, when I trusted my higher power, when I dared to take a huge risk in love,

Richard and I became parents of a beautiful son.  I don't believe this was merely a result of science and chemical reactions.

For the first time, Emily experienced what it felt like to have a brother.   The love, respect and appreciation that I have for Emily expanded as I watched her accept this new family development, which might have caused hurt and jealousy.  Instead of being resentful, she just loved her baby brother and celebrated with us.





Infused within the miracle came the joy and security of taking this leap together. Richard has been the most incredibly committed, supportive and engaged father and continues to be Elliot's best friend, role model and teacher.



Play-doh shoes, hats and scarves for toy animals are just one example of Elliot's creative inventions.

















We love you Elliot, more than words can say.  Happy 10th Birthday!  It's been a happy, love filled and exciting decade for all of us.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Signed Copy of The Signature of All Things Giveaway

I have a gift I'd like to share with my patient, kind readers.  Many of you have been with me since 2010, leaving supportive comments and uplifting my heart with your regular visits.  Thank you so much for sharing love and thus helping me to continue to take the risk of writing.

Your love is my soft landing.


Many of my friends who have stayed with me through these years are also leaving their blogs, and just now it feels kind of like the end of an era.  Perhaps the personal blog has gone out of fashion.  Maybe it is just entirely too much to maintain with any sort of enthusiasm.  I have often wondered if I should leave this space and go forward into a new project.  But even if it feels lonely here in my little blog corner, I still have an impulse and a desire to write.  And this space feels like a comfortable old shoe.  So for now, I will write at least one more post...and this one is in order to share a gift.

Those of you on fb know that I love Elizabeth Gilbert.  This year I did something completely self indulgent and purchased a single ticket to hear her speak in Asheville, North Carolina.  I rationalized that since Richard loves the mountains, we could fit in a hike and camp overnight.  But as the date neared, Richard decided that this type of occasion required better accommodations.  He spoiled me by reserving a comfortable hotel room and later splurged on a delicious Italian meal before the event.  This weekend I noticed little connections to "Eat, Pray, Love" as if it were a theme, minus the divorce.

"Eat"


Included in this unplanned theme was the mystery and excitement of travel. On a reconnaissance mission to orient ourselves for parking and navigating, we decided to explore the UNCA campus before dinner. Granted, Asheville is not Indonesia, but its location in the high country makes it feel as if you are visiting a place separated from the rest of the world.  UNCA felt like a different kind of university, unlike the ones I am familiar with here in the Piedmont.  It felt very secluded and intimate.  The entrance was a long drive through a botanical garden (so appropriate to set the mood for a talk on The Signature of All Things).  What was supposed to be a mission to establish our whereabouts (so I wouldn't feel rushed and have to run in my dainty sandals with heels) became a romantic walk under tall hemlocks and through blooming botanical gardens. Once we neared the general area, I entered the Ramsey library with its beautiful old library smell and sacredly silent walls to ask about the event location.  The young man behind the desk relayed the directions and mentioned that he was also working at the event. He wondered if I had purchased my tickets already, generously offering that there were a few left if I needed more.

After a fantastic meal at Pomodoro's, we drove back to campus, hoping that there might still be a few tickets left. We were having so much fun together that Richard and Elliot decided that they would attend if it wasn't sold out. Which it did.

 At the entrance of the auditorium, I suddenly felt as if my family date was being disrupted; that we were going to have to be separated because of my selfish purchase of the single ticket.  But Richard told me to go in and have a great time.  He would wait for me during all of it, the talk, the book signing and the pictures. He would take Elliot and go exploring.  Before leaving to have their guy-time adventure, Elizabeth Gilbert walked by with a smile and said "nice dog!"

 Once inside, I found a seat near the front and experienced something unexpected.  A fluttering in my heart bubbled up, just like it does during Meeting for Worship.  I felt the presence of the Spirit with me.  Other women in attendance describe that as "the energy in the room."

The energy kept rising as Liz spoke to the crowd of women and men in the auditorium.  After a brief introduction, she read a passage from her new novel, and then spent the rest of the evening answering questions.  I raised my hand and asked if she had written a childhood memoir, and if so would she ever publish it.  She responded in a serious tone (different from her usual up-beat humor) that "every writer waits until someone they love dies before they are able to write those stories. I do plan to write mine, but I am still waiting."

Her answer helped me to have peace about a conflict in my own heart.  I also have stories that must wait.  There is no need to rush to make public the stories that helped me to become who I am.

I also loved Liz's explanation on the interconnectedness of memoir and fiction.  She said, "fiction writing is like writing memoir and memoir  is like writing fiction:  in memoir you are creating a version of yourself that people close to you might say "but you're not like that at all!"

So I felt encouraged to go forward in experimenting with fiction and to be less intimidated by the idea of research...which is a good remedy for my lack of imagination.  Perhaps through fiction, I will discover that I have written my memoir, leaving not facts and dates and actual people, but thoughts and feelings and the impression of complex relationships.

It was an enriching, happy and energizing experience.

Then came the standing in line part.  Which would have been fun...all those happy, smiling women to connect with!  Except that since I've made a huge change in my diet...leaving sugar for more fiber...I have been regularly gassy.  So while waiting in line, I'm praying  "please don't fart, please don't fart, please don't fart, especially next to Liz..."


Once at the book signing table, I told Liz how much I loved her fb page, and thanked her for such giving.  In person, she is warm and open and kind.  She hugged me close to her side during our picture together.

"Pray"


God was merciful... the other talking end of my being stayed silent.

When I came out to greet my patient husband, son and dog, who could see the book signing through the tall glass windows, Richard commented on how Liz was different from the typical famous person.  He was impressed by her warmth toward people.

Elliot excitedly told me about a stone labyrinth and all the hidden places he explored.  I was so happy and relieved to be reunited so that we could continue our Asheville adventure.  I realized that while it's great to be independent and do things for myself, I enjoy experiences much more when I can share them with my family.

And so I have something to share with you...a signed copy of The Signature of All Things in paperback.







Please leave a comment either here or on my fb link to this post.  I will choose a winner through a random number generator.  If you are chosen, I will contact you through fb and ask for your mailing address.

Good luck to all!

Love,
Jenny

P.S...we had so much fun exploring:







"Love"







Monday, June 23, 2014

What Ten Years Of Lego Building Looks Like

As much as I love all things French, I used to resent Derrida and the French Deconstructionists.  It was so depressing to tear apart a literary work until its meaning was made irrelevant.  I resented it then, just like I'm resenting the deconstructionists now.

If you ask Elliot what he wants to "be" when he grows up, he generally replies that he wants to be a Lego Master Builder.

His passion for creating with plastic bricks has meant the gift of time for me...to write, to socialize, and to create.  I love that he enjoys this hobby which helps to make connections in his mind and problem solve.

But just now I'm realizing that perhaps all of that creative free time with bricks has led to something disturbing:

The tendency to build, only to dismantle. Just like the Buddhist monks who make the wonderful sand mandalas only to brush them away.  Life is impermanent, as is art.

In our house, so are plastic brick constructions.

Perhaps it's a normal boy kind of behavior.  (But the mini figures....why take off their heads, arms, legs???? poor little people!)

Taking apart all of these expensive and complicated Lego sets has allowed Elliot to repeatedly work on new creations.  He's gone through several developmental stages with his bricks, from Star Wars to Marvel Comic Heroes to Hobbits and Knights.   He's re-made more vehicles, robots, houses and spaceships than I can count.

And at one time, he built them all to the exact specifications in record times.  Out of all of these sets, only one remains:  The Millenium Falcon, which he built with his Dad, who made him swear to never ever ever dismantle it.

So now all of those technical creations have become the raw materials for his imagination.  But it's also a little heartbreaking.  Richard says that when Elliot is a teen and starts to rebel, the consequences for disobedience will include restoring the sets, one by one, brick by brick, back to their original condition.

I shudder at the thought of it....




Just now, we are preparing for Elliot's tenth birthday party.  Every year we say with complete confidence, "next year, we will not have a party.  We will do something different." (How about taking a friend to the Water Park, Elliot????? Wouldn't that be a blast????)

But the though of not having a big back yard party depresses all of us.

We love our friends.  Parents come and enjoy the fun and it feels so good to fill our home with children and listen to the shouting as they run through house and all over the yard.  So if it takes weeks of creative projects and budgeting, so what?

We are making memories and connecting with our community.  It's not about the gifts, but the friends.

This year, the theme is a mash up of Lego and Minecraft.  We'll be showing The Lego Movie in our homemade outdoor theater, have a Minecraft photo booth set up in the arbor, play games and fill the ping-pong table with trays and trays of Lego for a building activity.  If Elliot were not a deconstructionist, this part would be impossible.  So I'm trying to be positive while I sit through the sorting:  his compulsion to break down the space ships becomes an opportunity to share the experience of creativity and collaboration.

But in preparation for that activity, we are now in plastic brick hell.... (find a seat, anyone?)

There's more where these came from!


I'm not a Pinterest-perfect Mom who puts on the pretty parties with color-coordinated and matching theme decorations.  We're going to set up a taco bar in the dining room, take the cover off the pool, have a romping, running. invented game of "cap the Kragle" involving the garden hose.  We'll stuff our faces with cake cake and ice cream, and hand out bags of popcorn for the movie.  I'm also working on thank you gifts for each child...a hand painted t shirt with a Lego character face in the center.

Somewhere I read that the secret to happiness is finding something you care about that is bigger than yourself, then let that be your life.

I'm so lucky that I get to be a mom and do these crazy, time consuming, creative, messy projects.  If you were to stop by my house, you might find me buried in Lego bricks with paint on my face.

And I would be happy.



Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Jomeokee



Jomeokee is the Native American name for Pilot Mountain.  It means The Great Guide and was considered  sacred. (was not the whole earth sacred then?).  While hiking on the Ledge Spring Trail, you can see ancient stone faces of mythical proportions jutting out from the walls, adding to the mystical feeling of being transported deep into a past where ceremonies might have taken place on the summit.  For 250 years, a tribe called the Saura lived at the base of the mountain and grew vegetables, hunted and lived near the abundant, life giving Yadkin river.  (A very interesting documentary about this river, including beautiful local flavor of speech can be found here: http://yadkinriverstory.org/yadkin.html)

  Jomeokee is a monadnock (meaning an isolated rock hill that rises from a level plain) estimated to be 500 to 750 million years old.  It is made of quartzite.  Geologists theorize that it was once a beach.  From Exploring the Geology of the Carolinas, "although Pilot Mtn is 2,421' above sea level today, its cliffs originated as white beach sands on the shores of an ancient ocean. About 540Mya, the Iapetus Ocean was lapping at the shores of Laurentia, the continent that later would become N. America. Laurentia's sandy beaches were probably similar to the beaches of the Carolinas today, except they were made up of almost pure quartz grains."(p.137)

One of my favorite stories about Jomeokee is told by a park ranger who hiked with us.  He explained that during training for deployment to Iraq, a group of soldiers built a rock staircase into the side of the mountain.  I have since searched for documentation or a newspaper story on this, to no avail.


 http://www.naturallyamazing.com/americasparks/7722.jpg


My back aches just imagining it...according to the ranger, the rocks were delivered via helicopter and put in place by the sweat, muscle, teamwork and determination of the soldiers.


What I loved about the trails that circled around this monadnock were the amazing rock formations and beautiful flora.  In the spring, the walls burst with with rhododendron and mountain laurel blossoms.  There are no bears in the area because highway 52 passes nearby.  At night while camping, we could hear the flow of traffic.  This sound keeps the bears away.  So, for me, this is the PERFECT compromise between my mountaineering husband who lives for the wilderness, and me, who is often  always afraid.

On our latest adventure to this location, we decided to camp. Normally we would make a day trip of it, as it only sits one easy hour north by highway.  But the weather was nice, school was out, and this campground looked inviting! Instead of tents, we took a risk and experimented with hammock camping.  Once he set everything up, our site looked like this:



On this trip, I was reminded that regardless of logic, I always encounter a little fear every time I find myself sleeping overnight in the woods.  This new situation was ripe for facing an unexpected fear.  Sleeping in a hammock did not afford the sense of security I longed for.  Even with brave Ozzie to guard our behinds now made vulnerable to wandering skunks, possums and racoons in the night, this didn't feel as heavenly as I imagined.  The first night it rained, and I ended up on the ground in a sopping wet backpacking tent instead of in the hammock.  I slept with my phone, which was so water damaged by the morning it was completely useless.

But losing it seemed an insignificant loss compared to what I gained.  This mountain is a place of reclamation for me; a chance to confront fears and enjoy spectacular trails without being completely traumatized by my over active imagination. Besides my imagination, I am also nervous about heights, especially if I get too close to a precipice (something in me has this insane urge to jump...and I find that I must force myself to back away...)  But keeping my focus forward, I felt fine.

  At the lookout on the top of Little Pinnacle, there is a wide viewing area that one can experience from a comfortable distance, or go closer if you enjoy that feeling of being suspended in the sky.  So I decided that this sign at one trail head must be for the seriously reckless fools who run and leap with wild abandon:



Some people might say that Pilot Mountain is not for serious wilderness seekers, because it is so popular.  I love it for this reason.  I enjoy the people we encounter.  Everyone says hi or smiles on the trail.


Even the rocks smile on Jomeokee


Is this for REAL?
Hiking boots are needed. And patience to navigate through rocks.

While hiking the Ledge Spring Trail, glimpses of the plains are visible.
There are places on the summit trails that take you near the steep incline, but also plenty of room to stay near the rock walls.


Farther down the mountain, there are miles of open wooded trails leading to the Yadkin river that are not bursting with heaps of rocks or steep inclines.  A gentle day hike would take you from the ranger station to the river and back.  It is magical on this trail due to the height of the trees, and a canopy which doesn't support a lot of underbrush.  I love hiking in the open, where I can see through the woods.  Walking through dense growth is unnerving...I don't like sudden surprises.



This time I came home feeling energized and excited for the next trip, instead of blissfully grateful for a house with four walls...but I have to admit, after all that hiking, I dearly missed my bed.


Thursday, May 29, 2014

From the Happiness Jar

Here are a few entries from the happiness jar in May:

On May 2, I turned 43.  I am grateful for another year of living!



Richard's wilderness survival classes exceeded my expectations.  My favorite was the fire building class we hosted in our back yard.



A day trip to Pilot Mountain.




My friend Linda.  Everything about Linda is beautiful.  I got to tell her this one day when we were having a discussion about veins in our hands.  She said she thought her hands were ugly...after hugging her and telling her how I really felt about her (there's not a single thing ugly about you Linda!!!)  Our mutual friend Tanya looked into her eyes and said "Linda, you are one of the most beautiful people I know."
(Her face smiling goes in the happiness jar)

My neighbors.  Not the neighbors whose dog attacked me, and whom I'm still working on the seventy times seven forgiveness challenge...  my kindhearted neighbors who spontaneously offered to watch Elliot while Richard and I enjoyed an evening out.  My neighbors who always make time to talk, wave and smile.  My neighbors who have two beautiful children...one who is four year old Carolyn, and the other who is 10 month old Turner.  Yesterday, Carolyn blew dandelion seeds and wished "all good things for Elliot."
After enjoying a swim in our pool, I offered her a slice of watermelon.  She said,

"Watermelon is good for you, because it has a lot of taste."




A different kind of writing habit.  After years of reading books on writing, the real learning is happening through an actual practice not for social media.  It's as if I've been trying to learn how to ride a bike from a book all these years.  There's a fresh novelty in discovering how to tell a fictional story.  My wobbly first attempts to push the pedals and find my balance will hopefully become a longer ride..


Actual bike rides.  One sunny afternoon, Richard, Elliot and I rode through the adjacent neighborhoods and discovered the newly constructed branch library.  I'm looking forward to riding to the library for our weekly visits during Elliot's fifth grade year.

Rain showers.  Thunderstorms. (And the discovery that if I listen to "sound spa" on my computer I can write for longer periods.  I think rain helps to draw one within  and to a place of deep focus, even if it is an artificially constructed situation.)  Beating writer's block will now involve my headphones!

A new hammock hanging from the rafters on the back porch.  Elliot and I reading in the hammock at sunset, swinging our way through a long story.

Music.  Listening to my favorite cd's on our big stereo with the full range of sound.

Last and not least....I bought a ticket to see Elizabeth Gilbert in Asheville, North Carolina one month from now.  I plan to host a giveaway with a signed copy of The Signature of All Things in paperback.

Do you have any happiness moments you'd like to add to this list?  Feel free to leave some in the comments!

Happy Weekend!

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