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 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!

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Ambition and Mindfulness, Two Opposing Forces

Yesterday I woke up feeling unwell.  A headache squeezed a band of tight pressure around my skull, acid reflux rose in my throat and my stomach gurgled and felt like a wobbly container of swishy-ness.

I had to lie down and rest, and leave the chores alone.

All the things I wanted to accomplish, my ambitions for the day, had to wait while I did nothing.

And then an awareness, a widening perception of mindfullness arrived.  I experienced what it felt like to simply be near Elliot without a rush of expectations on us.

We spent the day together doing nothing, and he was bored, waiting for me to feel better.

I found myself really listening to him, appreciating the sound of his young voice.  The sweetness of his personality.  I noticed how his  mind and spirit are developing.  Being ambitious and driven to work on writing, fitness, chores, the Etsy shop and our academic work distracts me.  Ambition drives me on a highway, rushing over the fields of  those expansive, peace filled awareness moments, when time stands still. In this slow frame, I'm gob-smacked by the beauty and miracle of my family.  How it feels just to be next to one another, in the same room.  Being connected.

We are nearing the end of our academic year.  For the last two weeks, Ellot's been practicing for testing, just to reduce anxiety and not to enhance performance, because I doubt that the test will measure Elliot's true gifts.

No test will show what if feels like to be sharing life with Elliot.   To relax on the couch in the evening and read aloud together.  Last night we dove back into Frightful's Mountain by Jean Craighead George.  That he can read it might be some kind of measure of his achievement, but that he loves stories like this means more.

I believe that what a person cares about is more important than how well they can perform.  This is not some kind of excuse, a blanketing cover for the hard data, the results, the proof that we have been working.  I resent that numbers often have the final word in measuring a child's worth.  I reject that kind of thinking.

What we care about should be allowed to develop freely and without measure in education.

Like justice, and giving, and small acts of compassion.  Friendship and cooperation, respect for our faith journeys in all their expressions.   The pulling out of our expansive potentials as humans to be good to one another and the planet that we share.

 (I am a hopeless what?)

This week,  Elliot has been invited to a special community potluck honoring the founder of The Interactive Resource Center, Liz Seymour.  Liz is retiring next month and we are excited to be a part of the work she has done to bring hope to our community.

Elliot may not have an "end of the year" class party...but this event, where hundreds of people experiencing homelessness and the community of volunteers who help will be an exciting way to celebrate.  When we began our journey I never expected these wonderful experiences to keep arriving. I mainly worried about how to help Elliot get through this:

This first grade work arrived in Elliot's backpack as homework over one weekend.  It was the furious storm in my heart that sent me to the office with a withdrawl form and an intent to homeschool.   

 I'm learning that true success doesn't take hours of hard work or diligent practice. A six year old child does not have to spend 12 hours over the weekend doing busy paper work to be worthy.

 Success doesn't always require years of nose-to-the-grindstone striving.   There is a secret that no one tells you in's really okay to be a miserable failure in all the acceptable skills. (Which Elliot is not...but if he was, this would be okay)  You can be mediocre.  You can be non-traditional. You can be below average, average, or above average.  You can be a bright genius or a slacker.  You can be an artist and a creative and still have "chance" to live a successful, brilliant life.   It just takes a willingness to follow something that you care about.  Explore that feeling and let the curiosity take you to places and into the lives of people.  There's an energy source, a compassionate, loving universe of unseen and unlimited resources that provides gifts to sustain the journey.  In my ambitious striving, I often forget to notice and take comfort and security in this unseen reality.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Mother's Day (part 2)

Recently I have been thinking about how to navigate honoring my own mother, who continues to enrich and support my life in a hundred thousand million ways.

She's not very comfortable with social media.  She doesn't like to be "tagged" in pictures.  I wonder if it makes her feel self conscious to be the subject of my shared writing.  And yet, there's an absence in my continuing story, a character missing, who is really very important and valued.  That I did not mention her in my mother's day post does not mean that I don't love and respect her, deeply, the way we all love our dear parents.  In not mentioning her publicly on the holiday, I did so because I believe that "showing" love online is different than "really" loving a person in the three dimensional world.  I believed it was okay not to post the obligatory picture of us together.  I did not post a picture of us together for a couple of reasons, mainly because  we were unable to BE together on Mother's day.  I always wish that I could be.

My mother infused me with everything that I value.  Unconditional love, faith, respect, creativity, joy.  She worked very hard for all of us.  She made all the holidays special and beautiful.  Even though holiday times were stressful, with huge expectations, she never made it feel like it was an onerous obligation.  She enjoyed celebrating, hosting parties and making memories with family and friends.  She made our home clean, comfortable, beautiful, filled with sunlight and baked goods and fresh sheets hung on the line.  She cleaned up after all of us, including the 15 or so pets that we once had, all at one time.  Litters of puppies, kittens, a lizard, gold fish, a hamster....

She washed windows and curtains and dusted.  She baked cookies, pies, cakes.  She canned the millions upon millions of vegetables my dad grew in the garden (with his help, and sometimes my grandparent's help could eat for years from that garden).

She made sure we all had nice clothing for school, attended all the teacher conferences and sporting events and took us to church every single Sunday.  She forgave us when we misbehaved.  On rainy days or snowy days she would cover the kitchen table with newspaper and lay out items for crafting.  My favorite was clothespin dolls.

Once she saved our lives when her car caught on fire.  She was able to get all three of us out before it burned into a charred frame.

My mom is a devout believer, and her faith is a rock that nothing can crack.  She is our rock, and our shelter and our sweetest, kindest friend.

She is Elliot's biggest supporter in his mission to help people experiencing homelessness.

She once saved me from starvation and the possibility of homelessness when I was going through my marital separation.

My friends all loved her and said that I had the nicest, kindest mom.  They are right.

I am late in posting this picture, and I hope she will understand.  (Mother's day was really chaotic here...Elliot pulled a muscle in his neck and I worried about him all day)

Monday, May 12, 2014

Buy Her Some Real Rock!

A friend recently wrote a status detailing the list of wonderful things she did on Mother's day.  Part of it involved fancy food and other lovely things.  Girly kind of things.  Then she remembered to include that she ended her day with yard work and a trip to Home Depot for flowers and paint.

And this, my friends, is how I like to spend my Mother's day:

 By sweating through it, followed by a relaxing walk through the air conditioned aisles of Home Depot.

You see, Mother's day always falls on a Sunday, Richard's regular work day.  The weather is usually warm and sunny.   And since I love to garden, it's the perfect time for planting vegetables and mowing, or taking a long run.

This Mother's day I put on my running gear and headed out with Elliot on his bike and Ozzie at my side.  Running with Ozzie is always an adventure because he adores sniffing every rock and tree.  I have to command him to heel or the run turns into an awkward back and forth dance.  On this particular run, I forgot to grab a plastic bag in case he could not resist adding fertilizer to the already overly fertilized perfect green lawns in the newly constructed neighborhood.  Which is exactly what he did.

Elliot and I are studying civics and social responsibility.  There was no way I could let that fertilizer lie.

So we ran/biked/sniffed our way home.  I grabbed a few bags and ran back to the site, picked up the deposit and ran back home, like a kid running for the school bus with her paper bag lunch.

Sweat poured in abundance on the long hill toward home.  After a tremendous dousing rainfall the previous day, this morning was heavy with humidity.  While I ran with my paper "lunch sack", I started fantasizing about our pool. Then I remembered something that Deepak Chopra said during a guided meditation...he suggested that I become more aware of how big, hard impossible things will start to happen effortlessly.

Richard had stored our "summer escapes" pool in the attic of the garage.  Having never lifted it myself, I imagined that it weighed too much for me to get it down safely.  But thinking of the meditation, I went up to the attic (where I always bruise my head on the low beams...this day being no exception), I tried to lift the pool.

I prepared to heave my whole body into the effort.

It was bulky and awkward, but as light as a large tarp!  As I maneuvered myself into a position on the ladder, I asked Elliot to hand it to me.  When I got hung up on the descent, Elliot said,

"Drop it Mom!  The pool is not worth your life!"

I told him not to worry. Everything would be okay.  And suddenly the pool was unstuck and I was able to make it down without falling or dropping the "summer escape".

Then came the challenge of setting it up on the level space that Richard had worked so hard to perfect two years ago.  I'm not sure that space stayed perfectly level...I probably needed to scrape a layer here or there, but being determined, I skipped that step and went on with the task.

After hours of sweat and a few visits at the fence from my adorable, four year old blond and curly haired neighbor asking "Jenny, what are you DOING????".......

I had a half filled pool.  While the pool filled I also managed to turn over the hard clay earth around the perimeter of the deck to plant my sweet potato plants and tomatoes.  It was humid and backbreaking work.  Just the way I like it.

After investigating the reason why the pool seemed to be filling so slowly, I learned that an O ring on the filter was broken, so water was gushing in a steady fountain out of the top of the filter.

Just as Richard walked in the door, I kissed him hello and rushed out the door to Home Depot to replace the O ring.

While there, I noticed other Moms wearing colorful dresses and sandals dragging their families in for supplies.  A stone display at the entrance said "This Mother's Day, Buy Her Some REAL Rock!"

This would be my kind of Mom!  The kind to whom you could give a real rock and she would be thrilled at your thoughtfulness and your deep understanding of her true nature.

It is still holding water the next day!  I have one small leak near an intake hose, which Richard says he can fix.

Last week, Elliot and I hauled rocks and dug a new pond.  The birds have been loving it!

This is Elliot's garden.  We built this together shortly after we dug the new pond.  His cucumbers are already sprouting!

Richard and Elliot have been building this new fort, directly under the tree house.  On Christmas Eve, a man who works at Home Depot gave Richard the side wall for free.  It was destined for the dumpster, having been used as a display.  The spirit of Santa Claus lives!

This is our garden, hand turned.  This year we will grow the three sisters here...corn, pole beans and squash.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Why Friendship Break Ups Can Be Healthy

Almost a year has passed since our family experienced a devastating friendship break up.  It was emotionally draining and sad for all of us.  Through that process, I discovered that I have a limit that not even a long term friendship could bear.  Like a bridge under too much weight, I buckled and collapsed.  Then I made sure to seal the deal with some effective writing.

And several months ago, our regular Science Class ended when the teacher accepted a position at a public middle school.  This meant that we would see less of our friends. It felt as though we were in the middle of building strong bonds, then left the construction site unfinished.

In both cases, we've had to learn to stay open and to not cling.

In clinging to one particular friend, pouring all of our energy and time and love and frustration, it is dangerously easy to block out the light of new friends who exist on the perimeter.  Intense, close friendships have a tendency to produce tunnel vision.

It feels healthier for me, and for Elliot, to allow ourselves the space to see a bigger picture.  In this way we become more open to the natural flow of friends in our life.  Some are here for a little while, and that's okay.
The concept of "keeping" friends is not healthy.

Maintaining healthy, happy friendships does require some time and a little attention.  But not so much that the calendar only fills up around the other person's life.  The best friendships feel like freedom.  And this applies to family and spouses too.  Our families can make us feel like prisoners, or they can feel very open and light and free.   Captivity of the heart is a dangerous game.

It also takes a great deal of energy to maintain a thriving enemy relationship.  It would be better to focus on something else that restores the balance.

The middle is the sweet spot.  It's the place for giving and receiving in a natural way.  I'm not sure how to explain this to my nine year old son, who loves people so freely and with a passionate, deep heart.   Attachment has been hard for him.   He clings.  He feels devastated and separate when his love is not returned at the same level of openness and depth.

It's one of those long term lessons that we can only learn through time and experience.  New friends are arriving and older friendships are blossoming, and for Elliot this is a miracle.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Wilderness Survival Class

This year, something unexpected happened.  Richard had an idea for a class that he wanted to offer for our homeschool group.  After receiving positive feedback, he collected resources, dove into research and scouted locations.  We sent out a few emails, and before long, he was teaching a wilderness survival course!

And though he claims not to be a real teacher, the fact that both classes have been a success may prove otherwise.  He is great with kids and works hard to make difficult concepts clear. He presents tough challenges to engage their interest.  I've learned some things too, although I'm not a very good student and like to chat with my friends during class.  (Moms will always find reasons to talk with one another!)  Having  friends also helps me to manage my fears about returning to the woods and hiking off trail.  I wonder if they noticed my apprehension about hiking in ankle deep leaf litter, the favorite home of copperheads....

Or through tall grass and underbrush, the ideal habitat for the dreaded, potentially disease carrying ticks.  You thought I was going to say bears, didn't you?  Black bears sometimes pass through our area (even going downtown!) in the spring, so there is still a chance for me to have another encounter.

With Richard's RMSF,  I worry more about the tiny things with teeth than the big things with teeth.  Could it be possible that one day my paranoia about bears will be overcome by my greater fear of insignificantly tiny ticks?

The kids in our class (except for Elliot) are not aware that I have fear.  They weren't aware that all of our clothes were treated with pymetherin and that our skin was slathered with Deet.  They don't know my bear story, which turned into a four day long panic attack.  Being on home territory did help me to relax, but more than anything it was the group that made this a positive, easier experience.

  Making new friends, sharing stories and learning together has enriched us and given us more than we expected.  Our friend Jamy, who writes at Joy 365 recently blogged about our last class.  I'm going to send you to her blog today because I know you will enjoy her writing, her wit and her excellent photography!

photo credit Jamy Gearhart

photo credit Jamy Gearhart

photo credit Jamy Gearhart

photo credit Jamy Gearhart

photo credit Jamy Gearhart

photo credit Jamy Gearhart

Friday, May 2, 2014

Richard's Life Threatening Illness

This lesson was almost learned too late.

Today is my birthday, and my gift is that I get to share this day with my husband. That he is still alive is a miracle.

Recently we visited our family in Missouri.  We explored wooded areas at the back of a field.  Richard came home with two ticks, both of which I removed.

Both bites swelled the skin. One made a great big fat red and white bull's eye.

I urged him to go to the doctor RIGHT AWAY.  He thought if it was lyme, he would have plenty of time and could wait to come home before seeing a doctor.  Do all men think they are invincible?

His mom and I bothered and pestered him until he went to a local physician, who promptly prescribed a very powerful antibiotic called doxycycline. 

Within two days of the tick bite, he was treated for Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever.  We did not really know what that was.

Only after seeing a doctor yesterday, did we become aware of how serious this is.  We did not know that if he recovers, we still have to be on guard against relapse.

"RMSF is a serious illness that can be fatal in the first eight days of symptoms if not treated correctly, even in previously healthy people. The progression of the disease varies greatly. Patients who are treated early may recover quickly on outpatient medication, while those who experience a more severe course may require intravenous antibiotics, prolonged hospitalization or intensive care." (Centers for Disease Control)

If he had waited several days more, DEATH was likely.  This type of tick contained rickettsii.  Rickettsii affect the cells that line the blood vessels.  

"The damage that occurs in the blood vessels results in a disease process called a "vasculitis", and bleeding or clotting in the brain or other vital organs may occur. Loss of fluid from damaged vessels can result in loss of circulation to the extremities and damaged fingers, toes or even limbs may ultimately need to be amputated. Patients who suffer this kind of severe vasculitis in the first two weeks of illness may also be left with permanent long-term health problems such as profound neurological deficits, or damage to internal organs. Those who do not have this kind of vascular damage in the initial stages of the disease typically recover fully within several days to months. "(CDC)

So about a minute after reading that yesterday, I wept in a nervous, shaking, mental break-down kind of way.

The doctor here at home in NC is now monitoring him for relapse.  So far, Richard has responded positively to the antibiotic and is slowly slowly beginning to improve.  He still has pain and soreness, which is likely to stay with him for at least two more months.

Upon further research, we discovered that RMSF outbreaks are occurring here in North Carolina too.

Today we are heading back out to the woods, because Richard is teaching a wilderness survival class! Can you guess how much I want to go outdoors now?

Richard recently celebrated his birthday.  I had no idea then that it might not have happened. 
Please pray that Richard recovers fully, with no relapse.  We are going to stay positive, and put our intentions on good health.

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