Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Help! I'm Turning Into My Parents!!!

So I’ve just realized with some alarm, but not as much as you might think, that I’m turning into my parents.  Yep, it’s true.  I’m 36, soon to be 37 years old, and I am now manifesting many of the characteristics that my parents exhibited that made my teenage self run for cover.  As I approach middle age, I think this may be the plight of all adults.

For instance, this morning, as I was walking my smallest one into school, I waved at a passing car several times thinking it was a good friend of mine.  Upon realizing that it, in fact, wasn’t my friend, but a complete stranger, I didn’t stop waving as I was already in a committed relationship at that point.  Now, that might not seem that bad, but wait.  It get’s better.

My parents are two absolutely loving and lovely individuals.  However, each of them has a couple of quirks that used to make me run for cover as a teenager with embarrassment.  My beautiful mom, who, for the sake of anonymity I’ll call ‘Karen’,once made my sister-in-law and I walk around all of Tijuana looking for the house of some dead explorer.  If I’d been more open, or even paying attention, I could tell you just who that dead explorer was, but like all 16 year olds, I was mortified that my mom was walking military style around Mexico asking loudly in her southern accent, “DONDE ESTA LA CASA DE____?”  Because, it is common knowledge that if you speak as loud as possible while attempting to speak a foreign language, the chances of being understood increases to at least .13%. Now, let me clarify the military walk.  Like most women, Karen carries a purse; and Karen has a very unique walk when she is on a mission with her purse. Gripping it firmly under her arm, with the strap over her shoulder, she juts her chin out and walks the pace of a competitive speed walker all the while using her non-purse-carrying arm to propel her as she swings it far forward beyond normal personal space, then back.  She will never be mugged because criminals flee from before that kind of intensity. And, (I say this with love) it’s kind of scary.

My dad, (let‘s call him George) is the king of the groan-and-sigh. Upon standing, sitting, rolling over, changing the channel (with the remote, no less), or even breathing, the groan-and-sigh can be heard all over the house.  And this groan-and-sigh isn’t a recent behavior--I can remember being a small child and 
Dad would be getting up off the floor, and from sea to shining sea all that could be heard

He was the age I am right now.

So where does this leave me?  Is it possible to deny the genetic inevitability of turning into our parents?  One can hope, but I just don’t think so.  

The other day, my daughter and I were walking through downtown.  We were looking for a birthday gift for a friend and had arranged to meet the boys back at the car.  Without thinking, I slung my purse over my shoulder and started speed walking down the sidewalk with my daughter at my heals.  “Mom,” she asked, “Where’s the fire?!”  (Bless her heart, she’s still too young to be embarrassed by me!) I immediately caught myself and slowed down in order to stop the madness.  “Embarrassment avoided,” I thought. "There’s hope for me yet! I will NOT turn into my parents!” 

As we got to the car, I unlocked the door and climbed in.


Oh geez.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Before You Commit To One More Thing...

Warning:  This post contains the word ‘hell’ several times.  While this could be considered a word worthy of “sharpie-ing” to some, (see post titled Nine Stories) it is one of my favorite words in English for the reasons described below.  If you happen to be offended by the word ‘hell’ then stop reading now, because I will just end up offending you, and then you’ll call me (heaven forbid), and write me letters about how offended you are and how I may be a bad influence, at which point I’d probably just laugh at you, which would, in turn, drive you mad. And you would be so red with rage that you’d try to strangle me with your little man hands…which would never fit around my neck, and then I’d simply kick you and run away…so, if you don’t like the word ‘hell’ then do yourself a favor and bow out now.  No one will ever know.


So, those of you that know me well, know that I live my life by a couple of guiding principles, one of which I call the “Hell Yes! Hell No!”  principle.  The basis of this idea comes from a little gem of a book called Hell Yes! by Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin.  I came across this book one day and was blown away by it’s utter simplicity.  Without printing the entire work here, which violates more copyright laws than I can count, the gist of it is this:

Before you commit to one more thing, ask yourself, is it a ‘hell yes!?’ or a ‘hell no!?’.

Let me explain:  ‘Phoebe’ (names have been changed to protect the not so innocent) calls me one day and asks if I can bring in a meal for a mutual acquaintance.  Before I automatically say, “Yes.” I ask myself, “Do I really like cooking for people?”  For me, the answer is an unequivocal  ‘HELL NO‘.  I’d personally endure hot pokers in my eyes before I would enjoy making a meal for someone other than my family, and if by chance you are that rare friend that I have cooked for, you know that I only make one meal, and when you get tired of red beans and rice, just let me know.  I won‘t judge you.  Anyway,  I do like to clean--(strange, but true) so I say, “You know, Phoebe, I’m unavailable to make a meal, but I’d love to come help so-and-so clean their house if they need it.” At this point, this only works if I really can help them in another way.  And if not, that’s ok.  Because it’s ok to say ‘No’.
Now, you see how easy that was.  Phoebe felt all good inside because I didn’t scream, “HELL NO!” and hang up the phone, I didn’t have to cook for strangers, and I was able to stay on my true path which is marked by things that light up for me.


What did I say?

Yeah.  You read it right.  I said, I was able to stay on my true path which is marked by things that light up for me. These things make me feel happy, excited, and energized.  In other words like saying, “Hell YES!”

Each of us is on a path in our lives and we are here to find, and fulfill, and do the things we need to in order to be happy.  We’ve all been blessed with interests that light up our true paths.  When asked to do something that doesn’t light up your path, and you decline, no worries!  That person will simply move to the next name on their list and for that person, that task may be just the thing that makes them feel happy, excited and energized.  As Elizabeth Baskins says, “Sometimes you might feel pressure to take on a ’hell no!’ because you feel bad saying no.  You worry about disappointing the person who asked.  But isn’t it a little egotistical to think that you might be the only one who could fill the bill?” By saying ‘yes‘, when we really mean ‘no’, just means that we are depriving someone else of something that may light up their true path for them.

You may be asking yourself:  “Don’t you feel guilty for saying ‘no‘?”  And I’ll tell you, at first I did.  But then, I realized that when I was saying yes to things that I didn’t want to do, they felt like a burden and I did them grudgingly.  And I asked myself, who wants a gift that was given grudgingly?

You also may be asking yourself, “What if I’m not sure if it’s a ‘Hell Yes!’ or a ‘Hell No!” ?  Well, let me ask you, if it’s not a ‘Hell YES!’, then what else could it be?

So now, after lots of practice saying, “Hell NO!” and “Hell YES!” (but with other words, mind you) I find that it is the easiest thing in the world.  I have big, gaping holes in my schedule to be filled with things that really do light up my true path, like working in my chosen profession,  cleaning the widow’s house next door, volunteering in my kids’ schools, stripping wall paper in a friend’s bathroom, and reading a good book.  Because I’m not over extended and stressed out all the time doing things I don’t really want to do, I’m happier, more excited and energized.

And to that I say, “HELL YES!!!”

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Rainy Days and Sundays Always Get Me Down

Well, that’s not exactly true.  Rainy days are some of my favorite days, but Sundays are just a big pain. To quote Orson Scott Card, “Sunday morning is designed to let sinners have a sample of the first day of eternity in hell.”  By saying that, I am violating like every expectation of my chosen religious culture where most people praise their Sabbath days and the rest who feel like I do, (or who may be vegetarians or Democrats) keep their mouths shut, because like Momma said, “If you can’t say anything nice, then don’t say anything at all.”

So, now that I’ve stated to the 2.5 people that actually read this blog that Sundays are just not my favorite day of the week, I can expect either acceptance from whose who know me and all my reasons why Sundays suck, or some well meaning suggestions on how I can make the Sabbath more meaningful to me personally, at which point I kindly say, “Thank you for trying to lead me to salvation.  But this is my row to hoe and everyone has their stuff.”

One the other hand, on this rainy day, I would like to use this opportunity to explain why rainy days rock.

1.  Rainy days signify the opportunity to bake chocolate chip cookies.  Seriously, it’s a law, you should look it up.

2.  Rainy days make it possible to get all those things done around your house that have been piling up, like cleaning out closets, touching up paint and updating your blog...but not on this day of 'rest'.  A-hem.

3.  Rainy days provide the perfect opportunity to take a nap…not that any of us would admit to this in our ever-so-rushed world, but snooze on, Sleeping Beauty, you deserve it.

4. Rainy days remind me of April in Paris, May in Montreal, and that one Tuesday in October that autumn falls on in Montana.  

5. Rainy days remind me of the morning my son was born.  I remember walking out on our little balcony at home and watching the rain come down in sheets before we went to the hospital.  My thought was, “Heavenly Father loves this boy so much that he weeps to see him leave his heavenly home.”

Yep. Rainy days rock.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Nine Stories: Technological Scurvy

Convenience is what life is all about, right?  After all, the pioneers who settled America sacrificed nearly everything in search of a more convenient life.  Convenience in worshipping who and what they wanted to; convenience to govern themselves with out the rule of a monarchy, convenience to --well, you get the point.  Anyway, wasn’t their ultimate goal to prosper and have the opportunity to acquire the same conveniences  that Kings and Queens had?  Huge gaps between rich and poor classes of society have been based on who had the most conveniences.  Louis XIV’s court scientist created a greenhouse at Versailles that produced oranges year round.  While the peasant folk of France suffered scurvy, lacking essential vitamins, old Louis sat slurping his oh-so-juicy oranges, enjoying the modern convenience of growing fruit out of season.  However, times have changed.  Conveniences that were once available only to people like Louis, namely Kings and Queens, are now part of our everyday lives.

E-mail allows us to communicate across the oceans in a matter of moments. Twitter keeps us updated on the most inane parts of any person’s existence.  Facebook makes it possible to keep in touch with long, lost high school friends, or that random guy who bags your groceries, but who knows your name and therefore is now your ‘friend’.   However, the most invasive device ever invented can blamed on Alexander Graham Bell, who if I had the chance, would have smothered in his sleep before he invented it: The Telephone.
During the first 5 months of our marriage, a sublime silence reigned over our home simply because we took it off the hook. Once reality set in and we realized that we would have to emerge from all the bliss of honeymoon-dom, we put it back on the hook and the ringing began.
Of course, my love/hate affair with the telephone began as soon as I was in Jr. High.  Who could resist picking up the phone to call my BFF whom I had just spent the entire day with?  Everyone knows that what happens between when the last bell rings and when you get home merits at least a three hour phone conversation.  Not to mention analyzing what ‘Boy-Man’ (you know, that Jr. High babe that all the girls had crushes on…he was so manly at the time, but who was, in reality, a knobby kneed 13 year old) said and how he said it.  So of course, I loved the telephone as a teenager.  I loved the phone during college too--Mom and I chatted everyday to keep the homesickness at bay.  But then there was an 18 month period where I did volunteer work for my church, and the phone simply became a tool to arrange appointments and call home twice a year.  By the time I returned home and was married, the phone became what it remains to me this day:  A device to interrupt my most private moments, my deepest sleep or our best conversations.  And the sad part is, is that 90% of the calls are people who I don’t really want to talk to.

Now, don’t be offended if you’ve called me in the last few years and you are reading this: chances are, I really did want to talk to you.  But there is a vast majority who call us asking for money, votes, rides, meals, tours, advice, consulting, rainbows and unicorns that we are just simply unable to give.  It left me wondering last night while I was canning green tomato pickles (what? I was honoring my inner domestic diva--) and the phone was ringing every 5 minutes.  Was this contraption I gripped with a syrupy hand, for my convenience or for theirs?

To mark the transition from childhood to adulthood, many cultures require that the occasion be celebrated with a specific ritual.  May I suggest etiquette courses for potential callers?  One of my biggest peeves is when upon answering, people say something like, “Hey! How’s it going!?” and proceed to have a 5 minute conversation about nothing specific enough for me to glean from context who I may be talking to.  What ever happened to, “Hi!  This is Jorge, how are you?  The reason I’m calling is…”?  Or worse, those callers who ask “Hey! What are you guys doing on Saturday night?”  And because I can’t see their body language, I miss their eyes shifting quickly to their demonic set of triplets they are calling to see if we will baby sit.  Sometime, it would be nice if someone said, “Hey! What are you doing on Saturday?  Because we have 2 free tickets to see U2 in concert, and we though you’d really enjoy it.”

Alas.  I will keep hoping.  I’ve learned that convenience has a price.  Sometimes I dread coming home because I know that the phone is there…just waiting to ring.  Did Louis feel the same dread as he ate oranges out of season?  Probably not.  People who don’t own phones are either serial killers, (think about it, who are they going to call?) or Amish…but I am kept awake at night worrying about my inability to co-exist with conveniences, like my phone.  The pressure to be ’technologically savvy’ may be giving me and aneurysm.  Next month our computer will be an antique.  I thought a ’browser’ was someone who needed to tweeze.  And Apple is coming out with IPhone 5 before I’ve even cared that I don’t have IPhones one through four.   But unless I take up quilting and join the Amish, or start stashing bodies in the chest freezer, there’s no getting away from the phone.  Besides, I don’t want to be left behind, sick with technological scurvy, while everyone around me is eating fresh fruit.  Like Louis, I too want what life has to offer.  So I ask myself if a balance can exist between the world of technology and the world of convenience.      

A couple of weekends ago, as I was in that lovely nether world of not-quite-awake-yet-in the-middle-of-kissing Rocco DeSpirito (you know, that hot Italian chef-guy) when the phone rang.  Out of a Sacred Saturday morning’s slumber I was torn by the damn phone ringing.  Slipping out of bed and tip-toeing as quickly as possible before it rang again, I yanked the phone cord from the wall.

Maybe a touch of technological scurvy isn’t too bad.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Nine Stories

Growing up, one of my favorite books was J.D. Salinger's Nine Stories.  (You know, Salinger, Catcher In The Rye)  Depending on your cultural background and who your parents are, you either read Catcher unabridged, or like some people that I'm married to, all the culturally questionable words were blackened out with a Sharpie so as not to pollute a young mind.  I used to think that was really funny and a little outrageous, because if some parents were into blackening out words in a book, heaven forbid they should walk down a high school hallway in Anytown, USA and hear what is being said there.  To paraphrase Forrest Gump, "Sometimes, there's just not enough Sharpies."

       Anyway, in our house, Catcher sat right next to Shakespeare's complete works.  So when the Bard and I parted company, Catcher was next.  Completion led me to Salinger's Nine Stories.... Now, if I were really on my game, I could tell you what all those nine stories are about, and the cultural significance of Salinger's work in 20th Century American Literature.  However, Salinger has been on the highest shelf, in the tallest tower for a few years now.  And my brain can only hold so much information, and unless you would like a complete synopsis of Harry Potter (of which I can recount all seven volumes of plot like it actually happened to me personally) or need to know What Happened to the Lorax? , or even what kind of songs the Wild Things sing as they roar their terrible roars, then I'd be happy to oblige.

     However, up on the tallest shelf I can see Nine Stories.  I am intrigued simply because of the title.  Over the next nine days I will be recounting Nine Stories of my own.  Make no mistake:  clearly I'm no J.D. Salinger.  I probably won't use any words that need to be 'Sharpied'.  I like joy more than pain, and these stories will be prosaic at best, poorly written at worst.  

But they will all be true...at least according to me.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Morning Rituals and Dust Motes

I love the morning.  I like to wake up early when it's still dark and listen to the traffic start to increase on our corner as the minutes tick by.  I like to roll over out of a dead sleep and shut off my 5h55 am alarm and scramble to get dressed and out the door my 6 am to meet a friend to walk the dark streets of our neighborhood.  I like to come back sweaty, and get sleepy-eyed beauties up from warm beds.  I like an ice cold diet coke and about ten minutes of news before I make lunches and cheer children to make beds and pick up their rooms.

My mornings are shaped around rituals.  And I love rituals.  One of my favorite authors, Alexandra Stoddard was introduced to me just as I was breaking out on my own as a young adult.  Her book Living a Beautiful Life was one of those books that has shaped my entire adult experience.  On rituals, she writes, "Rituals is my term for patterns you create in your everyday living that uplift the way you do ordinary things, so that a simple task rises to the level of something special...Rituals elevate the was you feel about yourself, your life, and make you feel more peaceful and more free, more useful to others.  When these small moments are handled lovingly and with thought and care, they become more life-enhancing and make you more capable of doing more with the rest of your time."  Rituals bind us, make us into great people (if we choose) and can lead us to fully appreciate our days and hours, weeks and years.  A life made of rituals is rich, satisfying and full.

As I finish this post, I am sitting in the living room engaged in one of my favorite daily rituals: Writing the ever expansive Daily List of To Dos.  The kids are off to school, the laundry is humming away, my day is well under way.  The eastern facing windows are bright with a new sun.  The light is streaming through the windows giving the ancient wainscoting in this old house a honey colored glaze.  And as I look up...I can see dust motes swirling all around...annoying me with their ever present contagion of film over all the wood that needs to be dusted every, single day.  Sigh...one more thing to add to the list: Dust, AGAIN.  Dusting is up there in my book with changing a diaper, babysitting other people's children, and attending office Christmas parties.  It is one of those things that no matter how many times I do it, there is no satisfaction~it will just need to be done again before I want to do it.  Opportunity for ritual, or just a pain in the neck?

Deep breath.

Let the ritual begin.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Naming a blog is like naming a child

Naming a blog is like naming a child, except more people see it, and if you choose a dumb name, you can't blame it on post-labor narcotics.  On the up side of blog naming, you can use more words that "Debbie" or "Fred" so it's possible to create something a little more specific.  Also, my blog won't one day grow up and despise me for sticking it with a stupid generic name and change it's name to Natasha (oh so exotic) only to find that it's parents won't ever call it Natasha and so said blog finally gives up and goes back to its original name cringing every time someone calls it out because it evokes strong images of 1970's feathered hair and roller skates...anyway, I hope I've chosen well.