Four more weeks!

Tonight Miles said sweetly, “Mama, I’m sure glad President Obama gets four more weeks!”

Weeks.

Well, he’s getting it, sort of. I’m sure glad, too, sweetie. Four weeks plus three years plus 48 more weeks. YAY! (understatement of the year)

It got me thinking, though, what if I had to design and accomplish literally mountains of work and play in just four weeks? Two weeks from yesterday will be Thanksgiving, for goodness sake. How did that happen?

Two weeks after a pumpkin-pie and cranberry-scented holiday, we will be deep into the season. Me encanta la temporada navideña. The sun sets too early, but twinkling lights guide one’s way home.

***I interrupt this post to tell you that my eldest just announced he is breaking apart his Lego gun because he wants me to be happy and that he prefers to wait until he grows up and becomes a soldier or a police officer and gets a real gun in order to protect the people. He has decided to stop building Lego guns. I genuinely applauded his decision.***

Now back to four more weeks.

In four weeks, I can:

  • Write 1,000 words a day in a novel-writing experiment.
  • Purchase, wrap and deliver holiday gifts to niece and nephews well in advance of 25 December.
  • Clean out the freezer.
  • Go for a dozen or more runs.
  • Get three pairs of too long pants hemmed, finally, by someone other than me.
  • Examine the 2012 bucket list, and sort out what I’ve accomplished, what’s coming up, and what’s just not gonna happen this year.
  • Lose seven pounds.
  • Decide how to spend the 16-day public school winter break with two kids under age six in the rain.
  • Visit the Grotto by myself to talk to myself, my sister and her angel friends.

This list sounds pretty good to me tonight. It’s been quite a week! I get to break out the Christmas music on November 23rd, but here’s a teaser of a song I love. I know it’s premature, but I also can’t resist sharing this version of my very favorite Christmas carol by Jennifer Hudson. I listen quietly to these timeless lyrics that affect me, an agnostic, deeply as I consider moving emotionally and physically into the season that represents giving, sharing, and celebration.

There’s been tough times this year for our family. Earlier my eldest (the self-declared non-Lego-builder-of-guns-until-he-gets-a-real-one) mentioned that the reason he likes Christmas is “because he gets lots of toys”.

His words are true (thank you to my most amazing parents and parents-in-law and family and friends – we do enjoy a beautiful and generous Christmas morning). Of course, I immediately launched into a Christmas-is-for-giving-and-sharing-and-love and he heard it coming, agreeing with me, yeah, Mom, ok, and so on.

I have much to be thankful for this year. And I’m going to figure out a way in the next four weeks to share that gratitude with the people I love best.

So what do you do?

I’ve worked in windowless cubes, shared desk space, worked at home, on airplanes, and in a private office from which I could just glimpse the tip of the Washington Monument. I’ve learned from, been intimidated by, commiserated and collaborated with men and women of varying ages, ethnicities and experiences. I’ve dated a coworker. I’ve commuted by foot, bike, car and public transit.

Some jobs and colleagues I’ve forgotten.

Others are unforgettable.

The definition of career is an occupation undertaken for a significant period of a person’s life and with opportunities for progress.

A job is a paid position of regular employment.

Like many people, I’ve had both.

In my second job post-college, an attractive, middle-aged African American academic from North Carolina interviewed me for forty-five grueling minutes. The position was that of Staff Assistant, a lowly and low-paying job that introduced me to the world of international development and HIV/AIDS prevention. There I met people who traveled the world for a living, joked in French, Spanish and Arabic, and cared about issues unfamiliar yet compelling to me — public health, poverty and prevention. Within a few days I was sold.

I am grateful to this day that this woman chose to hire me.

A year later I was accepted into graduate school. I studied public health in New Orleans — no unsmall task considering competing activities that included parade-watching, throw-catching and Hurricane-drinking. There, too, I met like-minded people who shared my hope to help – somehow.

Professionally I find myself today in an unusual place. I’m not working, at least not in the sense that I receive a regular paycheck and attend painful staff meetings. I no longer report to anyone other than myself. I am an organization of one. Sort of.

As my eldest begins kindergarten this week, I daydream about him starting out someday. My first job was putting away books at the local library. I was fourteen years old and I longed to check the books out, but reception required far more experienced librarians. I could alphabetize and knew my numbers, so the Dewey Decimal System welcomed me. I also babysat, pulled weeds at a local farm, and lifeguarded at our neighborhood pool. I don’t think I ever made more than five dollars an hour.

Work.

It’s such a thing, isn’t it?

Intern, college-student, graduate student, volunteer, entry-level professional, mid-level-manager, supervisor, supervisee, on-maternity-leave, unemployed, laid-off, consultant, writer, blogger, stay-at-home mom.

It’s been a journey.

Truth or dare

I remember playing Truth or Dare as a pre-teen and a full-fledged adolescent. Yesterday I dared my five-year-old to jump into our backyard pool (a cheap plastic thing that was the greatest investment of the summer) and he looked at me.

What does “dare” mean?

I did my best to explain the concept. He didn’t jump until he was ready. That’s fine.

The next intention from my Week in Words is Be True.

I thought this one would be easy. I also think I am a pretty good judge of people, and whether they are being truthful or not.

This week has been a mixed-up sort of week of highs and lows, and I honestly don’t know what’s going to happen next. If you’ve been reading this blog awhile, then you know that I was recently laid off. What you may not know is that my employer announced that it is closing its doors entirely within the next 30 – 60 days. Every single employee will be let go. Founded seventeen years ago, this organization has been a leader in the community food security movement – one that has brought knowledge and inspiration to thousands of individuals and organizations working to build healthy, sustainable, and just community food systems. It is a sad ending to a strong story. And I’ll stop there — the complexity of the decision to close down operations is real and not possible to address briefly.

I’m not saying it was the right or the wrong thing to do.

The point is that my lay off was so much bigger than me. And I’ve found it increasingly challenging to determine who is being truthful and who isn’t.

I’m going to step away from my computer soon. We head south to camp for a few nights tomorrow and I.Need.To.Get.Out.Of.The.City. We’re bringing enough provisions for a multi-family car camping expedition that would last a week, but we’ll only be gone three nights.

So…. Be True. Today I cashed in a Living Social deal to float for 90 minutes in a sensory deprivation tank. I anticipated falling into a deep meditative state, but that didn’t happen. I think I was too curious and too delighted for me to completely settle down. Delighted to be emerged in a dark, silent environment, I explored so much in those ninety minutes — it was almost overwhelming. I tried to stop myself from wondering how much time had passed, and then suddenly soft music brought me back into reality and the experience was over. I wasn’t as True as I had hoped I could be during this unique experiment in self-care, because I found myself thinking about work, and working, and all sorts of layered and random and worried thoughts tumbled around my brain until I told it sternly to Be Still a la Max from Where the Wild Things Are. I floated in a good-sized tank filled with water and 850 pounds of Epsom Salts and took plenty of deep breaths.

The best part by far was the silence.

There was no worst part, but I’m not sure I’d do it again. I wanted to stretch and move and in a pitchblack tank of salt water that’s not really a smart thing to do. But I liked it. I like that someone like me can make an appointment to float.

And that’s true enough.

A Week in Words: Day # 1 Recap

Day One of my Week in Words (you can read about it here) was my first official day of Unemployment. Conveniently, it was also the day that I intended to Be Frugal.

Everyone slept in till 8:30 am which is always cause for great happiness.

One boy stayed home from school with me. After dropping his younger brother off at daycare, we immediately drove to Starbucks for an iced coffee (no cream, no sweetener, thank you). So much for frugality there. I didn’t have the gumption to brew coffee earlier (and it’s not a proper excuse, but the family barista my husband is out of town) and it has been really hot in the Pacific Northwest. We don’t have air conditioning, and the little one woke up twice, and the eldest crawled into bed with me claiming a super bad dream at 3:30 am. This is unusual since they are (finally) good sleepers, but every time they wake up I can’t go back to sleep for at least an hour.

So on to a frugal day. I opened the pantry and began pulling out random cans and jars. I boiled a package of dried orzo and threw in jars of roasted red peppers, marinated artichokes and kalamata olives. Turned out pretty good, I think. A little salty but that’s not a bad thing for my palette. I love using stuff out of the pantry instead of going to the store. I also picked another gorgeous cucumber from the garden, sliced it thin and served it up when the boys were whining about how hungry they were before dinner. It disappeared before my eyes.

Frugality isn’t the easy choice. I took the dog for his annual exam + shots and spent $84. I picked up a few key items for an upcoming camping trip and spent $22.49 (awesome queen airbed on supersale) and purchased a bunch of other stuff including a cute red-and-white-checked tablecloth for a total of $54. And I might have stopped by our neighborhood consignment shop and scored a pair of Banana Republic jeans for $14. Awesome find? Well, maybe, but maybe not. I admit to being guilty of impulse buys from time to time, though they tend to be small. Spending a small fortune on daycare tuition for the past five years does not allow for tons of extra cash around the house. However, being conscious about Being Frugal did give me pause, and made me consider all of the ways in which I am rich.

On to Day Two.

Be Kind.

For everything there is a season

The first summer without my sister I ran and cried and sweated in our nation’s capital. I quit my job, packed my bags, and moved three thousand miles away. I grew no sunflowers.

The second summer without my sister I logged many miles on the roads, slept very little, trembled with anxiety, and took our new puppy to the dog parks where we could both burn off energy and smile at strangers. He entered my life at a time when I was at a loss for knowing what to do next. He looked like this.

We lived in an apartment across the street from friendly gangsters who paid us no attention. I started to admire other people’s backyard gardens, but I still grew no sunflowers.

The third summer without my sister I lived in a home where we built a deck and my husband cleared a space for a garden. All I planted that season were sunflower seeds. I sat on the deck every night with a glass of wine watching the empty garden space and rocking our new baby.

Before my eyes the seeds took root and the magic that is found in a garden began.

In a large patch of dirt, shoots of green began to grow up, up, up, and much like Jack’s beanstalk, they appeared to reach the clouds.

By summer’s end this was our garden.

The fourth and fifth summers I grew fewer sunflowers but they were no less spectacular. And I still cried almost every night, but sometimes just for a moment when the tears threatened and sparkled and I’d blink them back and inhale sharply to make them disappear.

The sixth summer our sons were three years and one year old, respectively, and I planted dozens of seeds, but only a single sunflower grew that season.

Just one.

Had birds stolen the seeds?

Did my garden get flooded by Portland rains just one too many times?

I sent loving thoughts to the one brave bloom in the earth, but it didn’t last the season. One day I went out to find it crumpled on the ground, its seeds scattered by a squirrel or a crow. It was attacked. I tried to keep the entire incident in perspective (it was just a flower, for goodness sake), but I confess feeling really miserable about the loss of this particular flower.

The seventh summer after my sister died I managed to grow about half a dozen sunflowers in a patchy sort of amateur arrangement.

This year marks the eighth season of light since she left us.

My husband tenderly prepared the space. Together our boys and I planted the seeds, and most took root within a few days. Tiny, vulnerable shots of green began to appear.

The stems broke through the earth.

The fragile stalks grew tougher as they reached for the sun.

Today the light signals the plants to flower and the garden offers transformative healing and gentle hope in the presence of the sun.

This is what our garden looks like today – mid-season. We are on our way to a burst of color from at least thirty sunflowers, miniature, tall and giant.

P.S. We’re also growing a bit more in our humble garden. Cucumbers, cherry tomatoes and a jalapeño. We’ve already eaten all the lettuce.

Found the Marbles

I need more patio chairs

Picking lettuce from my garden couldn’t be simpler or more satisfying. This time of year we make big raw salads out of nothing but washed, dried, and  tossed greens and a generous splash of balsamic vinaigrette. Sometimes we fancy up our salads with an avocado, sliced cukes and cherry tomatoes served on the side, thank you very much.

The best part is that my kids eat salad greens like they’re going out of style. They may fuss and pick over the rest of the meal, but salads have suddenly become a go-to-food. I can’t tell you how pleased I am with this little development.

It is sunny and hot outside. Perfect weather for kids to slide into the teensy plastic pool in the backyard while I ease back into the hammock, a cool glass of Pinot Grigio nearby. What possibly more could I need?

Patio chairs, that’s what I need. Lots of them. We’re set to entertain three or four grown-up couples in a few weeks and have no place to seat them. Grown-up means my parents and a few others of their, ahem, generation.

Smile.

My generation is still catching up, and I’ve been focused on procuring things like carseats and strollers and diaper pails (which are, by the way, a total waste of money) and a billion toddler-esque knick-knack-paddy-whack-give-a-dog-a-bone-ish type of particular plastic-esque toys that become critically important in moments unsuspected as important to the parents who are enjoying their wine as the sun sets and a thousand sparks descend to say good night to the earth.

No new furniture for us.

I lean back and glimpse the oh-so-blue sky and puffy clouds that threaten to make it really truly summertime in the Pacific Northwest, and I sigh two minutes later when our two boys crash into the hammock, and I note that the littlest has learned to yell “Battle! Sword! Miles!” words that are genuinely appreciated by his big brother until he gets whacked delicately in the arm or the leg, and the tears come.

It was a lovely evening.

Wishing all my readers a moment of pure Summertime this year.

Please consider linking up with me at Just Write!


Unexpected intention

Last week I tried out a new yoga studio offering a great deal for new clients (ten classes for $10!).

The teacher asked us to set an intention at the start of a sixty minute vinyasa practice in a heated room. There were about 30 of us in the room, silently stretching as we began to practice. I have trouble being truly intentional during most of my studio experiences. I think of words like “breathe” and “calm” and “focus” but they never really stay with me. I adore the idea of intention, yet I find it challenging to operationalize.

This time was different. I immediately thought, “I will be true.”

Not strong. Not perfect. Not honest, even.

Simply true.

This unexpected intention stayed with me while the teacher led us brightly and gracefully through a series of sun salutations and floor work.

I will be true, I remembered, as I looked across the room filled with men and women yoga warriors.

I will be true, I inhaled as I raised my arms skyward, receptive, ready.

I will be true, I exhaled as I floated forward, further, and wrapped myself up in a blanket of my own integrity.

Not I will be tolerant (of the less than pleasant smells and awkward brushes with the guy next to me in a steamy, crowded room).

Not I will be terrific, or interesting, or remarkable.

Simply true.

I’m beginning to practice yoga after a lot of time gone by without. An immense river of water has tumbled under my bridge these past few years… the arch that joins spirit to body threatened to come tumbling down more than once.

Beneath my bridge, I dipped a toe in the whirling current expecting to feel a silvery chill. To my surprise I found that the water was warm.

I will be true, I said quietly as I drove home.

Six month update on my 2012 bucket list

Can you believe 2012 is half over?
On January 1, I created a bucket list for the year. Here’s an update on how it’s going.
  • See a sunrise from somewhere other than my car. DONE. This morning, in fact, I gazed across the sound as the sun rose in the Olympic Peninsula. It was 5:19 am and I was wide awake.
  • Teach our eldest son to ride a two-wheeler. Not yet. He did, however, acquire a skateboard for his 5th birthday.
  • Acquire first passports for boys. Not yet. But I did register one for kindergarten!
  • Use them. See above.
  • Run one half marathon that I’ve never run before. Not yet. But I’m registered for the Oregon Wine Country Half Marathon which will take place on September 2nd.
  • Watch Casablanca (again) at least once with husband. This is an easy one, and yet no viewing has taken place in 2012.
  • Reach out to bloggers outside of the United States. In progress. Check out the World Moms Blog!
  • If the right moment and image presents itself, get another tattoo. Not yet. Ooooh, I want to do this badly, but haven’t landed on the image yet.
  • Take something hot & homemade to a new mom. Does sending my sister a gift certificate to Trader Joe’s count? If so, then DONE. If not, then I’ll be ready to bring something delicious and nutritious to my good friend who lives down the street and is due in early October (are you reading, amiga?).
  • Learn a Spanish lullaby. DONE. I started out by cheating to re-learn an old favorite that I learned as a young girl. Cielito Lindo. I also learned a new one called Duérmete niño. The lyrics are similar to those of “Rock a bye baby” and if you really listen, they are somewhat threatening.
  • Sing it to my children. DONE. But big M still prefers “Mockingbird” and “You are my sunshine” (which always makes me cry, even when they sing it at Timbers games in the 80th minute).
  • Photograph a rainbow. Not yet.
  • Secure a literary agent. I’m trying, ok!?
  • Make paella. Or sancocho. Share with friends. Not yet.
  • Run more. Run often. January was a wash due to busted ankle. February, however, brought in a lot of energy and commitment, despite the rains. March brought no motivation. April – June… more or less consistent, but another ankle turn. But more running is in progress and on the calendar… note half marathon registration above.
  • Rid the house of all bottles and pacifiers. DONE DONE DONE with bottles! Still working on NO PACIS.
  • When the skies finally clear, stargaze. Ahhh, cielito lindo, cuanto te quiero. The biggest, brightest moon I’ve ever witnessed until this past 4th of July was on several nights spent working on a macadamia/coffee ranch in southern Mexico.  A few months ago I took Miles to the planetarium for a pleasant afternoon experience of stargazing. But that doesn’t compare to watching a full moon light up the sky against the backdrop of fireworks crackling and searing and popping…. or was the moon the backdrop for the bombs bursting in air? It was hard to tell. But it was spectacular.
  • Vote for the incumbent! Not yet. Can’t wait. FINGERS CROSSED.
  • Renew my passport. Not yet. Why can’t I just do this?
  • Visit Canada for the first time. Nope.
  • Cook something that my grandmother Irene used to cook (source: a special cookbook gifted to me by my Aunt Marie). Not yet, she writes regretfully. One of my favorite aunts just moved from Michigan to Tennesee. I need to prepare a dish in honor of her courage, tenacity, and love of family!
  • Be more tolerant. In progress.
  • Attend a meeting of the Oregon Beekeepers Association. I keep missing this opportunity.
  • Take boys to the top of the Space Needle. DONE. I might add we paid a total of $50 for a family of four to ride the groovy elevator and walk around the observation deck. Despite its spectacular views, the ten minutes we spent checking out the city from above weren’t worth $50.
  • Do the Shred every day for thirty days. Ummm, FAIL. I might try again at some point in the year.
  • Soak in hot springs in the middle of the woods. Not yet. But a dear friend’s hot tub at the edge of rural and beautiful Marrowstone Island surely counts.
  • Complete my book proposal. In progress.
  • Camp in Mt Hood National Forest. Not yet.
  • Go to Yosemite National Park before a close friend living there leaves. SAD FAIL. Friend employed at the park relocated to Washington, DC. HAPPY FOR HER. Our change in plans includes camping in Tumalo State Park and at Wallowa Lake later in the summer. Wallowa is surrounded by 9,000′ tall snow-capped mountains and a large, clear lake, while Tumalo rests along Oregon’s spectacular Deschutes River. I can’t wait to pack up the car with everything but the kitchen sink and sleep in our gigantic family tent with all my guys.
  • Meet my nephew expected to join the world in early May! DONE. Lighting Bolt is an amazing little guy and already a cherished member of our family.
  • Attend a meeting of the Compassionate Friends. Reach out to other bereaved siblings. Not yet. Scared.
  • Complete an open water swim of a challenging distance. SOON. My father and I are registered to swim the 70th Annual Roy Webster Cross-Channel Swim on September 3rd in Hood River.
  • Go on one meditation retreat, even if it takes place in my basement. Yoga/meditation retreat in the planning stage!
  • Write a letter to the editor. I have not yet felt so compelled.
  • Plan and execute an excellent five-year-old birthday party. DONE. You can read all about it HERE.
  • Hike Silver Falls. MUST DO THIS BY END OF CALENDAR YEAR!
  • Drag out the crock pot. Use it! Not yet. Still dusty. Sorry, Mom.
  • Forgive someone. WORKING ON IT. TOUGH.

A week in words

I’ve been considering a personal writing and living challenge, but with kids + life I’m not sure if I can make it happen. On the other hand, if not now, when?

The idea is to explore one idea or approach to being human, one day or week at a time.

These are the themes I’ve identified as most meaningful to me at this time:

Be Frugal.

Be Kind.

Be True.

Be Decadent (this absolutely conflicts with my starting point: Be Frugal. That’s ok.).

Be Scared.

Be Quiet.

Be Brave.

Thoughts, readers?

My youngest has taken great satisfaction in saying, “Move back” when disturbed or bothered.

Shakespeare wrote, “Get thee hence, beggar!”

I love hearing his clear message, and if that’s the reaction I receive to my explorations, too, then I’ll be ok with that. Let’s see how this goes over the next few days.

Reminder: the first approach is Be Frugal.

the goodness of strangers

I had moved into a quiet, lovely colonia in the city of Merida, Yucatan, where the weather goes from warm to tropical hot – a sultry, scorching white hot heat in which a fan doesn’t stand a chance. The true test of an experienced traveler is the ability to deal with local cuisine and bathrooms. For me, it’s also the ability to avoid getting lost. Unfortunately, I wasn’t born with a gene for navigation, and I can’t or won’t read a map unless it’s incredibly basic.

My host family was warm and gracious. My host mother had once danced in the Mexican Folkloric Ballet, and remained slim and elegant at age 60. She offered guidance when needed, but otherwise encouraged my independence as I explored my new community. Athough it wasn’t usual practice, when I headed out in to the neighborhood for a run, she wished me well. I insisted I would be fine, and back in 30-45 minutes.

So off I went, padding along the street of a moderately busy neighbhorhood in a city divided by a series of quadrants. Each calle, or street, had a number and a letter. This meant that Calle 16 Este, for example, had counterparts called Calle 16 Oeste, Calle 16 Sur and Calle 16 Norte. Didn’t much matter to me.

About twenty minutes into my run, I decided to head back. Naturally, I just turned around and attempted to trace my steps backward. Unaware, I left one quadrant for another, always staying on or close to Calle 16. Things began to look less and less familiar, and I recognized that feeling I’d often had before when traveling — and occasionally in my home town!

I was lost.

Yet I kept running. For nearly two hours I ran, in circles and spirals and down long dusty roads, and I studiously read every street sign, which was pointless but made me feel like I would figure it out. It was getting dark, however. Proud and a little dizzy, I hadn’t asked anyone for directions since I didn’t actually know where I lived.

I carried no money, water, or identification.

At sunset, I silently acknowledged that I needed to ask for help. I approached a woman who was emptying her car of four – no, five – children who scrambled and giggled and smiled. She looked solid and trustworthy. Glancing at me, she quickly apprised my situation.

“Donde vives?” (Where do you live?)

Painstakingly, I described my host’s abode and guessed at the numbers. She shook her head, serious.

“Súbete.” (Get in)

What?

“You’re far from home. Quite far!”

I had no choice other than to climb into her vehicle unless I preferred to spend the night outside.

After several minutes during which five small children watched me curiously, I was dropped off directly in front of my home. I modestly thanked the woman, and her five kids, for their trouble and kindness. I couldn’t have asked for a better way to find my way home.


read to be read at yeahwrite.me