Monthly Archives: August 2011

A Good Day

I woke this morning to the sound of air raid sirens, which slowly resolved into the high whine of a jet flying overhead. As my confusion ebbed and I started to consider going back to sleep, I heard gunshots in the distance. Someone getting ready for goose or deer season, I assumed, since there were no sirens forthcoming. This violent first few minutes of wakefulness followed a horrible night’s rest. One of my dreams involved a harrowing bus trip with impossible hills, descents and breakneck turns. The unsettling dreams were interspersed with wakeful intermissions within which I wrestled pointlessly with worries. Was my mom getting a good night’s rest before her mastectomy? Had we sisters planned well for helping her out during recovery? Would my mammogram on Tuesday be clear? Have I done what I can to get my kids ready for school? What have I forgotten, what have I missed? Nothing constructive came of this. The morning was a mess of trying to keep moving, keep doing, staying focused so I couldn’t watch the clock, staying as positive and grateful as possible.

Worry is weakness and worse, a thief of energy and clarity. Nothing is accomplished better under the cloud of fear and anxiety than it is with clear eyed thoughtfulness and rational optimism. Many of Jesus’ best quotes have to do with casting off fear, and that is one of the reasons I am such a big fan. Still, like most of what Jesus stands for, I have a long way to go before I truly live the Word. (Don’t be me. Be better.) Aside from the fact that my mom was having a surgery to remove cancer from her body and I spent a lot of time wavering between functioning human being and a waste of space, it was a good day. No cancer in lymph nodes! Satisfied surgeons! A living, breathing post-surgical mom! A lot of people were praying for her. Did prayers bring her a better outcome than worries? I can’t prove that, either way, but I know for sure that that same lot of people faced the day with strength and hope beyond what faith in modern medicine provides. It isn’t magic. It isn’t even easy to be faithful or hopeful in difficulty. But it is effective, important, and life-changing. Every moment I remembered to put aside fear and embrace faith, I turned inside out, like a pocket being emptied of old Kleenex and last week’s shopping list. Tomorrow will bring its own troubles. Hopefully, they won’t be near as dramatic as today’s were, but how much better would my life be, would I be, if I faced even the everyday tiny worries with the same intentional faith that helped me get through today?

The Unending Song

Is it possible to be solemn and joyful at the same time? Ask anyone facing a trial while holding tightly to faith, hope and love. Look into the heart of anyone who walks in the valley of the shadow, who knows regardless of what happens we are not forsaken. Walk a mile with one who has chosen their treasure well, whose spirit is secure, even when the body crumples. Lift up your hearts and know the joy of thanks in all things. Join the unending song.

I love you, Mom, and all my friends who are walking their own valleys right now. You are in my prayers!

 

 

 

 

 

Teen Life: Then/There and Here/Now

I was driving around town yesterday and I realized for the first time that I might not know how to adequately parent my suburban kids. Adequate parenting isn’t a new concern for me–that goes back to prenatal days, but raising teenagers in a big town on the outskirts of two large cities brings a whole lot of possibilities and challenges I never dealt with growing up.

I grew up in De Smet, a South Dakota town with a population of about 1200 when I lived there. De Smet started out as a railroad town (as chronicled in By the Shores of Silver Lake by Laura Ingalls Wilder,) and later was blessed by being at the crossroad of two state highways. That crossroad had the only traffic light in town, a flashing yellow on Hwy. 14, and a flashing red on Hwy. 25. A glorified stop sign, really, nothing like my driver-in-training needs to contend with, which is how this whole train of thought got underway. Teaching a kid to drive where I live now is so different than where I learned. Here there are more people, more traffic, higher speeds in tighter quarters, and infinitely more complicated intersections. In De Smet, back in the day, other drivers not only probably knew who you were, they often also knew something about your driving. If you were very new at it  (or very old,) you were given a little more berth and a bit of wry courtesy as you took a few precious seconds to figure out what you were doing. A few months ago my son was screamed at by another driver for going too slow, 28 mph in a 30 mph zone as he was approaching a stop sign. The same thing could happen in De Smet, but talk would go around, and that driver would soon find herself with a reputation as a hothead and on the short end of the neighborly goodwill stick. Karma can work quickly in a small town.

Driving isn’t the only area of difference, naturally. My graduating class was small, even for De Smet, with 25 students. If you wanted to help with yearbook, be in track, participate in choir, the all-school musical and be on the prom committee, that was fine. You probably didn’t even need to be particularly talented to get a spot, and yet De Smet produced very competitive athletic, musical and theatrical teams. No matter what group you were in, you more or less had known everyone for years. In a suburban high school of over 2,000 kids it could be easy to look at the masses of other people and think, “Let them do it; there are probably one (two, three) hundred kids that have been training since third grade to do that activity and I don’t know any of them.” In De Smet  you almost felt obligated to join, somebody’s got to do it, right? I tried a lot of things and found my niche in some. I am highly amused to this day that I was an officer in the Future Homemakers of America club. I had no intention at that time of becoming a homemaker, I was going to be a big deal in international business or with the United Nations. I was going to eat out and have my laundry done for me. But all my friends were in FHA, it was huge, and we had the best times. I don’t know how to translate those experiences to the world my sons live in today. They must find their own way. Maybe it is less about parenting and more about wanting to hold on and stay connected to my children’s lives. It seems I am reaching the end of “Do the best you can,” and am entering “and then let them go.” Terrifying. Sad. Amazing. Life.

The First Step

I am sorry I haven’t been around for a few days. I have been in Canada. In the 1960’s. In fact, part of me is still there because I am about 200 pages from the end of the way the crow flies, by Ann-Marie MacDonald. I could say a lot about the book, the author’s amazing use of language and the way she gets so completely inside the heads of her characters and her reader, but until I get to the very end, I hesitate to say more about it. So I am going to stick with a little problem I have: gluttony. Yes, yes, gluttony with chocolate, gluttony with TV marathons of Dr. Who and Project Runway, but our topic here today is book gluttony. I own stacks of books I haven’t read, and my (barnes & noble) nook is loaded with many more. Even with all those waiting for me, I still seek out bookstores and the library (LOVE the library!) for more, more, more. But that isn’t the real problem. The real problem is that I always start a book thinking that I am a normal person who can read a few chapters, decide if I like it, set it aside and get stuff done, then return to it if I like it enough. I am not a normal person. Even a pretty disappointing book can pull me from my real life and bury me. I am the nut without insight who thinks, “Just a few pages, what can be the harm?” until my husband comes home eight hours later to find me mortified with the lunch AND the breakfast dishes still strewn about, no idea of dinner, and quite possibly still in my jammies. To avoid this happening, I turn to evening reading, which all too frequently becomes reading into the wee hours, which results the next day in sluggish reflexes, sluggish thinking, and probably more dishes on the counter. I am a binge reader, able to go days, even a week or more without a book, but once one is opened I’m a goner. Even if I can force myself to put a marker between the pages and attempt to interact with my family, it is a sham. It might look like I am there, talking, cooking, helping build a deck, but that is just a shell in my clothing, walking around with the minimum consciousness needed to function. The rest of my brain is a dog straining against the leash, panting to get back to that intoxicating word-kibble. I try to justify my habit. I claim that carefully reading a variety of works helps me to become a better writer and I believe this is true. I just don’t think that all of the reading I get swept away with is helpful. Some of it is utter crap. I have a good life–strike that–I have a great life. Why my great life doesn’t tether me more tightly than a half-assed plot and a handful of two-dimensional characters is a great mystery to me. It hints of a character flaw. So in the interest of continuous self-improvement, I am determined to leave my unfinished book where it is until the errands have been run, the to-do list completed, the job boards have been scanned and dinner and dishes taken care of. But my thoughts creep back to the protagonist…Focus! Eye on the prize! Except this book isn’t crap at all, in fact reading it might make me a better person…Shake it off! You can do this! Right. Yes. I can do this and it will be better for all involved. I can become a better person by reading later. Now, I need to become a better person by not reading. My name is Lynnette and I am a Bibliomaniac. Thank you for listening and wish me luck.

The Deep End

Although nothing could keep me away from the swimming pool where my childhood friends and I splashed away hot summer days, I have never been much of a swimmer. When I was quite little, age five or six, my family and I were taking an overnight stop on a long and brutally hot driving vacation to I-don’t-know-where, and I was playing by myself in the shallow end of the hotel pool. I’d tuck myself into a ball at the bottom, then drive my feet against the pool floor and launch myself up into the air where I’d grab a quick breath before submerging again. Over and over again in the joyful obsessive-compulsiveness of youth I jumped until finally I submerged and found myself, not at the bottom of the pool, but suspended between the surface and the floor which was much farther beneath me than before. I had crossed the line into the deep end. I remember looking up toward the surface with no way to get there, watching rays of sun stream through the water at an angle above me. Bubbles from my surprised exclamation drifted up toward the blue sky. I didn’t feel panicked, but as I hung there in the sound-muffling  coolness I was thinking a six-year-old’s equivalent to the expression, “I am screwed.” At that point, my mother plucked me out of the water, happy ending, thank you very much, Mom, for paying attention!

That must have been shortly before the swimming lessons started. They were stressful. I wanted to do well, but for a long time I was convinced that holding my breath underwater for even a few seconds was equivalent to drowning. When I finally got over that and managed to pass Beginners, I discovered that most of the Advanced Beginners skills were pretty awful too, particularly treading water. I vividly recall the grey day we had to leap into the deepest section of the pool near the diving boards and tread water for two or three days, or however long it took to pass the test. My panicky movements didn’t do much to improve my buoyancy, and every swoosh of my arms and kick of my legs barely kept my chattering teeth above the water’s pursing lips as it gently tried to suck me down. Once the timed tests were over and I could keep myself afloat any way I wanted, I preferred to float on my back, the better to keep my face out of water and turned to the sky. I even got comfortable enough doing this to discover that when I inhale deeply I float better; my air-filled lungs are a kind of flotation device. It is hard to inhale deeply and remain panicked, so in addition to being more buoyant I felt a lot calmer, too.

This works out of water as well. Life regularly throws us into the deep end: someone we love gets sick or has a terrible accident, we lose a job or are betrayed by a friend. Our initial reaction is often to struggle and panic.  Sometimes, someone comes by and lifts us up, gets us straightened out and onto solid ground. But just in case no one shows up to do that for you, it is good to be able to keep yourself calm and not get pulled down into the depths. Breathing helps. Also, it is important to remember that even though the potential for peril is all around you (water,) that doesn’t mean the worst is actually happening (drowning.) What do you have to keep you afloat? A pair of lungs? Good, keep breathing. A faith that promises there is a reason to hope? An excellent life preserver, hold on tight. The presence of mind and energy needed to reach the shore or at least a boat? Keep calm and do the best you can; you are closer to salvation than you think.

[Thus says the Lord]  When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; –Isaiah 43: 2a

Paws of Destruction

I have been exchanging facebook comments with a friend of mine about our crazy, deadly cats. Joe, my only cat at this time, became a necessary addition to our household after my kids started getting their own ideas about how much cuddling is required for a happy household. It probably won’t surprise you to find out that their reckoning of optimal time spent snuggling is radically lower than mine. Hence the cat. We have had cats always, but they were more for fun, not necessity, and they really weren’t what you might call “cuddle compliant.” Joe is a different kind of cat. Indoors, when he isn’t sleeping, Joe is all about the petting, the baby talk, being carried like an infant, etc. I can’t decide if he really likes it or is just smart enough to understand that with the squishy food comes certain expectations, but either way he goes along with it and I’m happy. At night, we often gave Joe the choice about whether he wanted to be in or out. We tried to be reasonably safe about this, not letting him out until most of the traffic and the dogs were in, and for the most part he came home in the morning intact. There was the one time he got put in “kitty jail,” when one of the neighbors summoned animal control out of concern either for the songbirds or the poops roaming cats tend to leave behind in gardens. Those were a horrible couple of days as I waited for Joe to drag himself home, before I realized he might be in the slammer. We kept him inside for a week or so after that, but he can be very strident about his outside time (not to mention quick to slip out the door between our feet,) and we ended up allowing him his nocturnal freedom again. Joe gradually built up his hunting skills and started bringing home chipmunks, squirrels, very occasionally a bird, and often, rabbits. It became obvious that he prefers the heads, which I guess to him were rich delicious nuggets encased in a crunchy, edible shell. Most mornings we found small decapitated corpses on the lawn, which were unpleasant to clean up, but not as unsettling as the small beady eyeballs he often left behind, staring up at us through blades of grass. It was gross but being outside made him happy, and he was so fit from all the exercise and varied diet. The downside of buying and applying flea control and tapeworm pills seemed worth it. But recently, Joe has acquired a new interest, and it has been his downfall. It seems that on his nightly sojourns, he has developed a social streak and in the interest of finding new feline friends, has taken to launching himself onto neighbors’ window screens. Joe is not a small cat; he weighs a good twelve pounds. Evidently a cat of the right size can propel itself with sufficient force to pull a screen right out of a window, then enter, panicking feline and human inhabitants alike and leaving a swath of destruction in his wake. It has happened more than once. Multiple households. I am unshaken in my belief that his sole intention was to have a friendly visit, but I couldn’t argue with the damage. So now Joe is an inside cat, and we are all coming to terms with that. He is still vocal about his preference to be outside, especially as the evening slips into night. He seems to be putting on a little weight. We try to chase him around a little more often, and pull out the toys; overall we are making the transition. He might be a trespasser with a little bit of murder in his heart, but he is still my baby.

I’m a Fan…of Pioneer Woman

I have a couple of new blog series (serieses?) I am considering doing. One is “I’m a Fan…” wherein I will tell you all about what I am finding worthy of shouting about these days, for instance, today’s topic: “Pioneer Woman Cooks.”  The other series would be “My Favorite Places” where I will share where I love to be and why. If you like the posts even a little bit, I need you to indicate that in one of two ways. The fast way is to click the “like” button at the bottom of the post. The slower but more creatively stimulating way is to leave a comment and share your thoughts on things or places you like, or whatever you feel inspired to say. If you really, really like it tell some (or all) of your friends to come visit, too.  If I don’t get much feedback, I’ll gather that I am blogging up the wrong tree and let it go. These will be series in the sense that there will be more than one post on the topic, but not in the sense that they will be back to back. I gotta go where the muse sends me (she can be very pushy–and fickle, but don’t tell her I said that.)

I am a fan of the blog “Pioneer Woman Cooks.”  at http://www.pioneerwoman.com. My friend Suzy turned me on to this and I am so thankful she did. Ree Drummond has this fantastic story about being a corporate city girl who ended up marrying a cowboy and living on a ranch in Oklahoma, where she has written cookbooks and is developing a cooking show. She also blogs about photography, home and garden stuff and home schooling, but I don’t follow it all because I don’t have time to read it. I can’t fathom how she has time to do it all AND photograph it AND blog about it. I still haven’t picked a color for my dining room. She’d have her whole ranch painted by now. Anyway, what I love about Ree is how self-effacing and funny she is while also being clever and seductive in the way of food lust. Even the recipes I would never want to make for myself (let alone the small, ungrateful troop of Philistines I call my family) I end up reading with longing. You may experience envy seeing her photos and reading what she is up to, but you will never begrudge her her life because you will come to believe (as I have,) that if you and she knew each other, you would be the best of friends. So to recap: Pioneer Woman, really good ideas, super fun reading, cooking, photography, home/garden, giggles.

You can click on a link to her blog to the right under Blogroll. Don’t forget to click “Like” if you liked this post, or leave a comment and tell me what you think of her, or what blog you love right now or whatever you want. Thanks for stopping in! ♥