Friday, December 28, 2012

Let's remember the stable

Jesus was born in a lowly stable, not in the finest hotel

As I was sitting on my comfy couch yesterday afternoon, my thoughts were aswirl of what needs done before Christmas. My list was out and I was checking and adding things like a banshee. I have presents yet to buy, cookies to bake for two separate events, and a grocery list that is a mile long. I promised myself I wouldn’t get lost in the crowd of Christmas this year and instead of jogging on the fringes of it I almost lost myself in the middle of it. My kids wrote out their Christmas lists, as they do every year, in detail. Their lists are things they would love to have, but which my husband and I peruse and pick at will. Not everything can or ever will be bought – don’t we all have a list in the back of our minds of things we always wanted? Still, for some reason their lists started to blend together and make me go cross-eyed and unable to focus. What am I doing this year to be different? Or a better question, what am I doing to MAKE a difference.

My thoughts drifted to my friend who lives in Hartville – my very best friend. You know the kind? Where you don’t see each other for months and when you do it’s just like you have never been apart? I met her in San Antonio, Texas when I was serving a VS term back in 1988. We looked at each other and said, “Hey, there you are BFF!” She introduced me to my husband, so even if she wasn’t my best friend she would be special in my life. She is one tough cookie, and several years ago she decided that Christmas wasn’t all about the presents. She made plans, crazy plans, and on Christmas morning she loaded her vehicle with roasters of sausage gravy and biscuits, headed to downtown Akron and Canton, and fed all the homeless people that came out of the woodwork. Her family went with her and since then it’s become a tradition. She doesn’t just do it at Christmastime though - she goes sporadically throughout the year and shows up where they live, always with food, sometimes with clothing, and always with a heart full of compassion and love. She has gotten kicked out of places, yelled at, been put in scary situations but she keeps on going. She is my hero. 

What are we doing to spread God’s love and the message of Christmas? Talking about it in church on the safety of our benches? Do we send out care packages to a place in another state, then sit back and feel like we’ve done our part? Are we sitting on our comfy couches wondering what we are doing and what’s important about Christmas? I know I have been. I don’t know if I have the guts, like she does, to change it. I think about our Christmas traditions and I grow selfish and mean – kind of like the Grinch’s heart? I want to keep my traditions the same because they are revered in my heart. Why then, do I feel a small pinch when I realize that Christmas is only a few short days away and what have I done to make an impact – ANY impact? We may scrape and save to purchase presents for our kids, and those kids will love what we get them. They are not selfish kids, but they are warm and clothed, well-fed and well-loved. They have seen the other side of poverty, having visited and stayed on the mean streets of Mexico - it’s ingrained in their brains. But we have so much poverty here in the U.S. that’s ignored on a regular basis. We have kids that go to school hungry and sad, their bellies crying for even a crust of toast that my kids would throw away without a thought. There will be families that are cold on the streets and that will welcome a hot meal of sausage gravy and biscuits from a fierce and brave soul that obeyed God when she heard him talk to her heart. 

These people live in our backyards, in our towns, just out of view of us “regular” folk. We talk about them with disdain, bitterness, and fear in our hearts. Why can’t they just get a job and quit being a nuisance? I know when I’m out and about shopping and marking things off my list, grabbing that expensively-priced coffee with the sound of jingle bells in my head, that those less fortunate are far from my thoughts. I throw a few coins in the red metal tin and keep walking to my car. But the words of John Lennon linger in my head: So this is Christmas and what have you done? Jesus wasn’t born in a manger full of clean straw and water – he was born in a dirty stable full of animals. He was born into the lowest place there could be. We forget this. I forget this. We set up our nativity scenes of a clean-looking lovely stable where a clean baby Jesus lies. Mary and Joseph’s robes are spotless as are the robes of the shepherds who view him from just outside the door. As I set up my nativity this year, a cherished tradition, I noticed the faces of my figurines and how pale they were. I’m sure that Mary was not a blonde with fair skin and that baby Jesus didn’t have light brown hair as well. Has “our” version of Christmas become so traditional and the same that we can’t see past it? 

My thoughts are conflicted this dark morning as my warm cup of coffee steams before me. My Facebook feed streams with people that are telling me what they are thankful for – as I, too, am thankful for what God has blessed me with. But I want to remember as well that dirty, cold stable that Jesus was born into. I don’t want to stray so far and be so comfortable that I forget and begin to fear those that don’t have what I do – or look at them from the very tip of my nose. I’m not better. Every day, there is a mom or dad that is struggling to find a place to keep their kids warm for the night. They don’t want to be in the situation they are in, and it’s not as easy as telling them to get off their “lazy bottoms and go to work” – whoever said being less fortunate makes you lazy? We need to change our words of disdain and anger and turn them into words that heal. Jesus wasn’t born into a beautiful mansion fit for a king – he was born into a filthy stable for a reason – to remind me and you of the least of us.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

A few quotes that move me.

helping others

Christmas is here. The lights are softly glowing in my home, inside and out, and sharing the glow of the tree is the best thing there is. I'm convicted this time of year, always, about what I haven't done. Have I made a difference in someone's life? Have I complained too much this year? Have I been hateful and full of bitterness? These quotes speak to me, and I wanted to share them with you:

“You have not lived today until you have done something for someone who can never repay you.”  ~ John Bunyan

“We only have what we give.”  ~ Isabelle Allende

“No one has ever become poor by giving.” ~ Anne Frank

“No one is useless in this world who lightens the burdens of another.”  ~ Charles Dickens

“I don't want to live in the kind of world where we don't look out for each other. Not just the people that are close to us, but anybody who needs a helping hand. I cant change the way anybody else thinks, or what they choose to do, but I can do my bit.” ~ Charles de Lint

“Love is not patronizing and charity isn't about pity, it is about love. Charity and love are the same -- with charity you give love, so don't just give money but reach out your hand instead.”  ~ Mother Teresa

“Give, but give until it hurts.” ~ Mother Teresa

“Sometimes those who give the most are the ones with the least to spare.”  ~ Mike McIntyre

Friday, December 7, 2012

The "real" Christmas tree debate

It’s 5:30 A.M. and I’m sitting here quietly surveying my household. A cup of java is steaming in my hand and I can see the fog is heavy outside this morning. Christmas paraphernalia is spread out all over my table and the lights of our tree are visible in the living room after being darkened for the night. I feel cheery and warm this drizzly morning.
We are “real” tree people. I grew up in a household that always had a fresh pine tree to decorate. The smell would permeate the house as the fiasco with the bottom branches was evened out, and the tree was finally nestled into its home in the metal base. Décor from homemade crafts, school projects, and vintage balls were hung with care on intertwining branches and a star found its home at the top of the tree. I carried that tradition into my marriage and every year of our twenty-three married Christmases together have seen a real pine tree ensconced in our living room. In the end, it may not be the cheapest way to go. Artificial trees are by and far worth their money over and over. Spend $100 on a nice one and it will last you many, many years. But for me, sacrificing the ambiance of a real tree and the adventure we always have picking one out is not worth it to me.  I will gladly spend that $30-$40 every year.
In the early days I used to buy a tree in whatever grocery store was selling them. I remember buying them from the small mom & pop store in Walnut Creek when we lived there. Scraggly scotch pines filled our living room and I felt we had it all with those first trees filled with hand me down ornaments and vintage ones I had collected and bought from thrift stores. That was back when you could still buy a beautiful vintage Christmas ball from Save & Serve for ten whole cents. Prices have gone up a bit, but I still hold on to the collection I amassed all those years ago. Our babies, in succession, have laid in front of our trees – their eyes full of wonder at the lights and spectacle of Christmas that overtakes the house. Somewhere along the line, probably when the kids got older, we headed down to New Phila to a small Christmas tree lot that looked like it was straight out of a movie. Row after row of trees stood under strewn lights, Christmas music playing, and we walked each row until we found the perfect one. The kids would dodge in and out of the tree rows and shout to each other about this tree and that one. Finally, we would hoist it on top of our vehicle, strap it down, and head home to put it up.
I’m not sure what made me want to do something different this year. We have never been to a tree farm to pick one out, but I posed the question to my Facebook friends where the best place to get one was and overwhelmingly one place was mentioned:  Fencerow Farms just south of New Bedford. Now, I’ve lived here my entire life and I’ve never heard of Fencerow Farms. After being told and hearing people rave about how quaint and awesome it was we decided to meander down that way on a rainy Sunday. We headed out and turned right on SR 557 and immediately I realized that all those chipped signs saying “Christmas Trees” were the path that was leading us. As we drove farther, turned south in Charm and headed back that curvy road, the Christmas songs were blaring on the radio and I could feel the mood in the car change. Every care or trouble we had seemed to drift away as we got closer and closer. Finally, a sign came into view – nothing fancy, no lights or anything – pointing the way down, down a hilly narrow drive. We saw a farm with an outbuilding warm with lights and smoke curling up and away from the chimney. We parked and got out and row after row of perfect Christmas trees spiraled away into a field as we stared in wonder. It was too late to actually cut one of our own so we chose one already cut. We even went home with a $6 Charlie Brown tree for my daughter’s boyfriend who doesn’t usually have a real tree – she said it was time to change that. The small little shop held antiques and trees with ornaments to buy. A big wood stove put off heat and we sat by its warmth and sipped cocoa as the kids ran through the shop like they were small again. There was magic in the air that night, and as we drove away they said that this was the coolest place they’d ever been to get a tree.
Our beautiful tree is now glowing softly in the place of honor in our living room.  Its verdant green branches are hung with orbs of white and balls of sparkly color. The smell of pine and sap fills the house and it finally feels like Christmas with our “real” tree in place. Maybe someday, when I’m old and gray, I’ll give in and buy an artificial tree. Chances are, though, that I’ll be dragging my grandkids out to help me pick out a real one – because without the smell of pine, softly dropping needles, and watering the tree every other day – it wouldn’t really seem like Christmas. It’s the best money you’ll ever spend.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Doughnuts and Black Friday

Why I would rather eat a doughnut at home than go out on Black Friday

I’ve written before on my distaste for early Christmas shopping. I’m literally still back in October basking in the leaves and pumpkins. Though I have to take away some props from my two teenagers at home who NEVER DID carve those pumpkins I bought for jack-o’-lanterns. Blah, blah, blah I’m too busy – I’ll do it tomorrow. It’s a sad day for the orange globes who now sit on my porch gathering a coat of frost and no eyes to see it with. Imagine if I would tell them I have been too busy to go Christmas shopping? It would be Armageddon part duex.

How I wish I could have meticulous lists categorized by size and color, likes and dislikes, what I can afford and what I can’t. We did exchange names for the family exchange on Christmas Eve, but those seem easier to go pick up. The older my kids get the harder they are to buy for. I don’t want to succumb to the perils of all gift cards. I feel like it takes away from the personality of gift-giving. That’s not saying I don’t ever buy them because I do. I just don’t make it the entire gift. For me, their tastes change quickly, so I never pick things up when I see them in June. Like I’ve said before, I’m a procrastinator. Why buy in June when you can get it in December? I will feel good if I start a bit of shopping now in November. I will feel in control. I will not panic.

I can’t say that I ever did panic for Christmas shopping. I believe that we focus so much on the gifts that we lose sight of what Christmas is all about. Regardless, presents need to be bought so I forge ahead. I’m not much of a Black Friday shopper. My temper runs too high to stand in line and battle all those people for the newest gadget. We usually end up going on the Saturday or Sunday after Black Friday and try to get any deals that are left over. You would be surprised how much is left – and all for the same price. Cyber Monday is another great day to shop. The deals online the Monday after Thanksgiving are stellar and all within the click of your mouse. I have found, as well as a few others I know, that if you’re online in the wee hours of Black Friday that you can nab those great advertised deals. Not everything is available, but TVs have been purchased, as well as GPS systems, all for that low, low price. 

Here is my plan of attack: Eat turkey, mashed potatoes, and dressing. Lie down. Browse circulars with the family. Go home. Wake up Black Friday about 9 a.m. Make coffee. Do nothing. 

I’ve decided that if I can’t get what I want at a decent hour of the day I won’t get it at all. Kudos to all you avid shoppers who brave the lines of people, lost tempers, and displays of advertised items that run out after 10 items are brought out. It’s all about the bait and switch. The only thing I would go out for again at midnight? The towels I bought at our local Walmart. For $1.28 those were the best Christmas season purchase I ever made – even though I had to battle people putting 30 towels in their cart. Black Friday is a dirty business and I plan on engaging in it sound asleep.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Election vigor and weariness

Election Day, party lines, and words that cut like a knife

I am a bit tired of this Presidential election and all of the things that go along with it. I hesitate to even write a column on it because of the animosity, hatred, and outright vile things I’ve seen and heard firsthand. It’s an election where you get raked over the coals for even saying two words to someone. It’s been more than I have ever seen and I’ve been around/voted for a few elections - my eighth Presidential election to be exact. I try to stay informed, keep my eyes open, and not run a tight party line. When you walk that tightrope your eyes never see anything outside your small world. When I was younger, I would ask my Dad or Mom this question: Who are we voting for this election? The answer was the way I voted – no question. I’ve come a bit farther than that now, and I will tell you that the children of this great land are growing up in a country that is much different even than when I was in school. I am quick to let my children know that their vote is their own, and when my eldest voted four years ago for the first time I quickly learned that they have their own minds. It’s the way it should be. What worked blindly for me shouldn’t have to be blindly followed by my children. 

When we run our households aren’t we given the task of handling the money, distributing the money, and/or saving the money? Sometimes we need to borrow money, make payments on loans, and at times get in over our heads. Our great leaders are no different. Presidents try to get a balanced budget for this country, although I’ve never seen one. They may promise one, but the reality is that it will never happen. Don’t even try to fight me on it. They raise taxes, lower taxes, try programs that benefit some and don’t benefit others. Some have had to make the decision to go to war and some have had to make quick decisions that don’t always turn out the way they were supposed to go. They are not infallible leaders and the harsh words and bile have been spewing forth – especially in this election. If we fail in the budgets, loans, and hopeful dreams we take on at home, then how can we expect any less from the leaders of our country? They have panels of advisors and cabinets full of people that can advise at any moment, but in the end, no one is perfect. The Oval Office doesn’t have a description that says, “Only enter if you’re perfect.” I wouldn’t want it to say that. I want someone that goes in hoping that they can steer the country, or at least try, for four or eight years – however the country decides.

I’ve made decisions in my life that have resulted in awful things. My head was turned and this or that made my life a living hell at times. We are an imperfect people because only God is perfect. Why then, are we so quick to judge our Executive in Chief? Present and past Presidents included. Is it because of a party line you’re holding to? Is it because you’ve always believed one way and can’t see another? Because you don’t like where someone is from or what color he is? How about his religion? Because he worships at his church differently than “our” norm should we hate him? Should we not back a candidate because his Bible has extra books added to it? What is the right religion? Or is that even a valid question? These are things that are swirling around us like a sea of vipers. I’ve been subject to unbelievable hatred and ugliness staring back at me from my computer screen – all because of this election. Election Day can’t come soon enough.

I get up every morning and put my jeans on one leg at a time. I pay my bills, take chances, and clip coupons in hopes of saving a bit of money. I have big dreams that I can hopefully make come true. We live in a country that allows our little bitty dreams to come to fruition if we try. I’m sure each President that has taken office got up, put his pants on one leg at a time and hoped to accomplish what he dreamed for this country. If he is anything like every other person, not every dream he had came to pass. The presidency only lasts four to eight years. Have you made a dream happen in that time? Or are you just living each day hoping it happens? We don’t have a timeline like the presidency does. I, for one, am trying to see past our candidates and look to where their dreams lie, what they want for our country, and their hopes. In the end God loves them too. He can see past their outward flaws and see the person inside. If only we could do that too.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

When was the last time you met yourself?

New blog post on The Bargain Hunter.  Do you like being alone sometimes?  

When was the last time you met yourself?

I love being alone.

I love the sound of the house settling around me, while I sit in silence either reading or writing. I must have been born with the self-reliance gene times 10, because if I don’t get my alone time I start to climb the walls. I have friends who, knowing they have alone time coming up, will start making calls to fill up those spaces - those pockets of time where the silence will meet them. 

They can’t face it.

For me, it’s where I meet myself and say, “Missy, there you are. How have you been?” Too often we forget who we are, what we believe in, or what we used to be. We fill up our lives doing so much for others, or being so involved in our friend’s lives that we don’t look inside. I like who I’ve evolved into – I’ve met myself a lot over the years and know who I am. Although, without those moments of silence and alone time, I never would have. 

My husband has learned how much I enjoy tending to myself. He’s respectful of what I need, just as I know that he needs to hang out with friends a certain amount of his free time. He’s learned to appreciate time alone as well, whereas I’ve also learned to like being in a group setting. We meet in the middle somewhere. What gets me is when I express to people how much I love being alone, and they laugh or say, “You’re nuts. That’s so boring.”

I’m not saying I need to be alone forever. I’m saying I need to stay in touch with myself so that I’m not bending over backwards constantly for others – never to rejuvenate who Missy is. I need a day or two filled with the sound of my own breathing – not the breathing of others down my back. When was the last time you took a day and just went where YOU wanted to go? When you didn’t have to run here or there for the kids, or pick up something for the spouse? Can you name that time? I bet if you had a whole day to yourself you might not know where you want to spend it. 

I found myself alone in a local town a few weeks ago, with several hours to spare as I waited on a repair. I walked myself several blocks and started meandering. I dined with myself at a restaurant I’ve always wanted to try. Swirling the crusty bread around in the olive oil with herbs, I met myself where I was. People don’t stare at you when you dine alone, it’s a feeling we produce ourselves. Dining alone is the most freeing feeling in the world. After I was sated and filled with luscious homemade pot stickers and salad, I walked across the street to a bookstore. I browsed the aisles, not a hurry or care pressing me, and I simply browsed. Finding a tome that I had been wanting, I paid and headed down the street to a local bakery. I picked up a few decadent items and headed outside to sit on a bench, where I proceeded to eat an entire cupcake. It was delicious, as was the sky as I gazed at it on my own time.

When was the last time you met yourself? Took time for yourself? Tended and mended yourself without feeling guilty? We are mothers, wives, lovers, and friends – but most of all we are ourselves. Take one day and reconnect. You might be surprised to see who you are.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

The spaces in-between

Originally found on my blog on The Holmes County Bargain Hunter. 

The spaces in-between

There are spaces in a house that no one thinks about.  That awkward nook going up the stairs, the corner with the rocking chair that we throw coats or gym bags on, and that space between the washer and dryer that leads to the bathroom.  We pass through these spaces every day and don’t give them a thought.  Yet these places are where the most information passes.  These places are where I meet my kids.

What I mean are those soft landing pads – the ones that absorb tears and make me pause and give my thoughts and concerns to whatever is going on in their lives.  The kitchen counters are a well-made place to sit on and talk until the wee hours.  I’ve had many a child and their friend talk to me about the cares of the world from this perch.  Three, sometimes four young bodies draped on my counters beside the crock full of utensils and spatulas, discussing the weight of their day.  

I savor these moments.

The carpets in our home hold many secrets too.  The plush slightly shag carpet in the purple room upstairs is home to a bevy of mysteries and told thoughts and plans.  It has been pumped full of blood, sweat and tears in the many years we have lived here.  It held suitcases packed full ready to leave for an uncertain future, and the excited thoughts poured out while packing them.  The carpet supported another beautiful soul as she worked her way back from the abyss of torn muscles, pounding that carpet every night as she built herself up to be well again.  The edge of the bed on each little dormer built into that room was a place for me to sit and hear.  Just to listen and hear – sometimes no more was needed.

Our front porch is made to be sat upon and enjoyed, albeit with cracked deck chairs and deep comfy cushions.  Discussions here, feel velvet in the cover of night.  I’ve sat with a child in my lap here hearing confessions and turbulence, as we went on to solve and pursue the wonders of the world with our conversations.  The porch floor has been a sturdy surface to sit upon and reflect, while sharing. 

If I have to name a spot, though, that’s held the most and deepest conversation it would have to be our pumpkin-colored bathroom.  In it is a small red stool which has held me captive while each one of my children has poured themselves and their cares out to me.  I can’t pinpoint why this bathroom is so conducive to rivers of emotion.  Its smooth care-worn walls hold tears and joys from years back.  It’s heard shy confessions of new loves, and the tears that have come from heartbreak.  It’s heard dreams and plans for new starts, and sinking feelings of hopelessness.  We’ve solved the entire world in this bathroom, and its walls vibrate with information.

There are spaces in a home we don’t think about every day.  We move through them and the veil of our lives, living out the ordinary with candor and passion.  These spaces in our home thrum with who we are.  They hold our hurts and fears, our joys and pain.  I will meet my children in these spaces until they inhabit my home no longer.  And when they are gone, the echoes of those words spoken will remain in the in-between.  

Saturday, August 11, 2012

The art of making a sandwich

The Art of making a sandwich

I wish I could shirk every duty I have and just go to the beach. 

It’s too bad my middle name is responsible, or this sentence would trail off into nothingness and all you would see are tire marks heading south.  I’m a pretty big homebody.  I love to be at home puttering around, doing laundry (Yes.), and folding said laundry.  For some reason, it gives me satisfaction to watch the creases smoothed out in that wrinkly towel, fold it in thirds, and stack neatly with its towel-mates.  

Must be my semi-OCD rearing its ugly head?

Maybe what I’m tired of is the routine.  Get up, make coffee, drive to work, drive home, make supper, talk to my kids, talk to George, go to bed.  I love the “kids and George” part of that scenario, but the word mundane comes to mind.  I believe this is where people get tired and do dumb things in their lives.  They begin to believe that there is nothing more for them than the everyday minutiae of seconds, hours, and days that blend together like a series of pictures scattered on the floor.

This is where you need to start looking closer.  Minutiae:  tiny details.

I see people being ugly and mean to their loved ones, taking every moment and opportunity to pick and wound.  We start wrapping ourselves up in “self” and look inward at our feelings and hurts.  There is a time for self, a time to find it and free it so we can reach the pinnacle of what we’re striving for.  But, when we become so insular and self-focused, we start to see only what “we” want instead of our loved ones around us.  

“You want me to make you what?  A sandwich?  You have two feet and hands, go make it yourself!” 

We laugh snarkily and feel smug inside because we just told them what they needed to hear, right?  We don’t need to get off the chair and do anything for anyone because they can do it themselves.  

Have we forgotten that love is spoken in many different ways?   That maybe that sandwich equals love and caring to someone else?  I have made thousands of sandwiches.  I have lovingly spread mayonnaise between soft layers of Italian bread, piled turkey or ham gently on top, sliced fat green pickled jalapenos for flavor, halved avocados to add that kick, and finished with a favorite mellow yogurt cheese.  I wrap it up and place it in the same lunch bag as I did yesterday and the day before that.  But to someone I have loved for the past 24 years it means love.  He knows I care about him enough to make him a sandwich.  When he bites into it and tastes the jalapenos and avocado he knows I took the time to cut up what he loves so he could enjoy it.  Just like I know that he goes to work every day for us.   That he takes the time to fix my A/C so my car is blowing cold, refreshing air when the temperature is 95 degrees.  

We need to stop dismissing the minutiae of our lives – what we think is mundane.  I may want to run away to the beach at times, but don’t we all?  I wouldn’t run away without my family at my side.  I wouldn’t become so upset at the little things they do wrong that I would just up and leave, or go hibernate and pout in a room by myself.  We need to start focusing on the little things.  Those long hours they work for us and a happy smiling greeting when they walk in the door.  Don’t pile your cares upon them the minute they walk in.  Have a cup of coffee waiting for them or if a cold beer is what they want then have it chilled and frosty, awaiting that first sip.  It doesn’t empower us to push them away with words that cut to the bone – it empowers us to show love and care.  Because in the end all anyone wants is love and care.  If we choose to withhold it, how can we ever receive it?  I will continue to focus on my beautifully mundane life.  I will make sandwiches, pour cold ice tea, and sit on the porch with my husband and gaze at the fields across from our house.  Every once in a while we will escape to tropical regions where we re-gather ourselves to keep going on.  I will cut up limes and have drinks with my husband and we will laugh as the cool liquid goes down my throat.  I will do my laundry and fold it with the utmost care.  I will water my flower pots so their tiny buds stay hydrated in the wilting heat, and just like those tiny buds, I will water my relationships.  Without water they will die.  Without love our relationships will die.  Get out of your funk, stop looking at what you don’t have and focus on what you DO have.  It’s all in the tiny details.  

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

A Voice. My opinion. Her opinion.

There have been many incidents over the years that have caused this blog to be written.  Two have happened in the last two weeks.  We need to wake up and see how our words affect people and how they sound.  I thank the Bargain Hunter for giving me a voice.

Let a child give their opinion and the wolves are waiting to pounce

Does being an adult mean we deserve respect?  Or does it ultimately have to be earned?  

I’m pondering this notion on a hot, sticky July afternoon and I don’t like what I’m discovering.  I grew up in a home that taught respect, but not the kind of home where you had to be quiet as a mouse.  I’m one of five sisters and a brother and we’re known for all having big opinions. 
Really.  Very large and loud opinions.  

We sometimes have to shout to be heard at family gatherings.  We don’t often get into fights, in fact, I don’t really remember many fights at all.  There was the typical teenage bickering, but even now as adults we just hash things out over coffee – and more coffee – you know how that goes.  Our issues, our kid’s issues, our friend’s issues… on and on it goes. We’re pretty insular and what we hash out in private doesn’t usually make it into the public eye.  

It’s just how we roll. 

Our kids are often included in these conversations.  We value their opinion, and try not to let our strong personalities stop them from expressing their view. They may have to fight to get a word in edgewise, but get a word in they do.  How could they not have an opinion growing up with so much talking going on? 

My children, of which I have three, are very strong-willed.  Their Dad, he of pulsing Aztec blood, never lets the sun go down on an argument.  Our kids have learned they don’t usually win an argument/debate with him.  What they do know is that they can state their opinion without fear.  He’s raised them with a voice and a spirit to use it.  We guide them with what we want them to know, then step back and let them learn.  It’s the letting go process and some people don’t know how to do it. 

I’m not sure why some adults can’t take the opinion of a child or one of a young adult.  Are we so set in our ways that we think we need to “set them in their place”?  Do we feel the need to beat our opinion over their heads so they change their crazy ways and see the light?  Or do we feed them the “I’ve been through everything in my life” talk so much that they can’t live and learn life for themselves?  

Who decides who is right – and why are you arguing with them?

It’s a battle I’ve seen raging here lately – kids with opinions and adults who want to batter/berate them into the ground.  I’m tired of it. 

I welcome the teens who come into my home with an open heart.  I welcome their views and different points of conversation they may bring.  Who are we to tell them it isn’t so and that they can’t do something a certain way?  That they can’t have a different opinion than the “norm”? 

I for one don’t feel my authority as an adult is disrespected when kids believe something different than I do.  Is it a power game? I don’t know how many times I’ve heard an adult tell a kid that they know nothing about which they speak.  

I was taught a certain way, but that doesn’t mean I had to keep that belief system.  I have varied from it, distanced myself from it, came back to it, and adjusted it to be who I am – not who you think it should be.  Let’s not take these beautiful kids and negate their beliefs with one fell swoop – whether it’s our belief or not.  Let’s not tell them they don’t know what they’re talking about just because what they say convicts us of our own actions.  

Being an adult doesn’t give instant authority or wisdom.  Kids can sniff out posers a mile away.  Have we forgotten the freedom it is to be a kid?  Before we had mortgages, bills, and political views to stuff down people’s throats?  Back when our biggest issue was what cassette tape we were going to buy to cruise down the boulevard on a hot July night? 

Our children have the freedom to feel, to state, to say – and I won’t be a part of tamping those lovely thoughts down so they fit my own

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Family time >>> Computer time

My most recent column on The Bargain Hunter.  Can someone please hide my laptop for a week? 

Carving out time and getting away from the computer

I have lots of thoughts to write about this July 4th weekend. None of them have come together into a remotely cohesive train of thought. Should I write about how I threw a double baby shower on a dime? Or should I let you all know how I would like to rip Verizon Wireless because they keep adding hidden charges to my account? Maybe I should write about that great deal I got on toilet paper….

Maybe, maybe, maybe. I’m just not feeling any of those things today. What I have on my mind scraping the inside of my skull is one word: TIME That’s it - no punctuation after it or anything because it stands on its own. I’m sitting here typing trying to figure out where I can buy more time, or just do more with the time I do have. Have you ever sat at your computer fiddling around with Pinterest, playing Words with Friends (although my kids tell me WWF is now over? Never got the message?) or simply mindlessly surfing random sites for clearance items? All those snippets of seconds add up to hours, which add up to days, which add up to time lost. Why is this bothering me today? Me, I’m a techno freak. Although I don’t stay on my computer from morning until night, I do check it in the morning before work, when I come home, and I usually have it open in a chair beside me. Um, I may have stumbled onto the problem. I’m addicted.

This is not news. This is also not a post on how to save money or be frugal – but I’m thinking any person who wants to better themselves could use a good post on how to use time wisely? Either that or be a better listener when your better half asks you a question and you actually hear it instead of half of it and pretend to answer like you know what was said. That’s called fake listening and I’m guilty. Facebook has taken me over. Thanks for your evil billionaire-ish ways Mark Zuckerberg. Who am I to blame him? The dude is raking in some cool cash on our inability to tear ourselves out of an Internet fog. I simply need to know every moment what everyone’s having for supper, is that so hard?

All kidding aside, our lives need order and discipline. They also need freedom and fun. What I’m searching for is a balance. I need to learn to lay aside the laptop when it’s time. When I get to the bottom of the Pinterest page and it’s having trouble “fetching pins” quickly enough – I know it’s time. Or when Facebook has nothing new on the home page because I’ve checked it 20 times in the last 30 seconds and no, no one has updated yet. I’ve become a Facebook comment-hoarder. I’ve compiled a list of ideas to keep me from crawling inside my computer ala Tron – and if you don’t know what Tron is then I know I’ve gone too deep. (Look it up though, great movie and great remake).

1) Realistically, we need to take breaks from the computer. No one is made to go non-stop. Sometimes I feel a headache coming on when I’ve been typing awhile or even working online. Sometimes a day or two will do, or maybe two weeks is in order. It helps us keep perspective and realize that the computer world is not the real world. Here is a great post from The Simple Mom on taking a break: http://simplemom.net/on-breaks-and-why-i-need-them-regularly/

2) Pick up the written word. Books have always been a lifeline to me, but since the advent of the computer and everything available on it, I’ve found it hard to concentrate. I will not graduate to an e-reader, so I need to carve out Missy plus book time. For me that will entail my front porch, a cup of coffee, and that book that grabs my attention and won’t let go. I have one in mind I’ve been wanting to buy and doggone it I’m going to buy it. Spaces of time in our day must be devoted to ourselves or our peace of mind will go out the door.

3) Short of hiding the computer, which is ridiculous, we need to be able to strike a balance. Read this article from my friend and fellow blogger Tracy Lopez, who writes for Voxxi and has a great blog calledhttp://latinaish.com/. Read her excellent article on unplugging: http://voxxi.com/unplug-from-technology/.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

NYC has my heart!

Reminiscing a bit on our time spent in New York City at The Menno House.  It was a time of service, but also for rejuvenation and reconnection.  As follows is my new blog on The Bargain Hunter about what we did, accomplished, and felt after it was done.

New York City and The Menno House on my mind

When Bruce Hummel asked George and I to go on a mission trip to paint at The Menno House in New York City, I hesitated.  Can I take off work? Can we leave the kids alone for a week? All the what if’s ran through my brain.  We huddled and finally said yes – and was it ever the right choice. 

We left on a Sunday morning at 5 a.m., fresh off hours of serving/decorating at Hiland’s prom.  Bruce, Anne, George, my niece Heather, and I piled in and off we went on a wild ride to New York City.  We slept most of the way, stopped for donuts, and kept on trucking, arriving early afternoon.  I had never been to NYC and was anxious to take it all in.  When the skyline came into view and we entered into the city, it became a whole new world.  We are travelers, George and I, and have always wanted to experience the city.  It was amazing.  We snaked our way through town, finally ending up at our destination, The Menno House.  It’s a guest house, home, and thru-way for various people.  It’s a place you can rent a room, cheapest in Manhattan, a home to VS’ers, and also to people who work for non-profit organizations.  Its beautiful brick façade and four stories beckoned to us as we tumbled out ready to start our crazy week. 

The object of our stay was to complete several painting tasks in this very old building.  The kitchen, dining room, living room, and several other areas were on the agenda if we got to them.  Our other objective, Bruce had said, was to immerse ourselves and see the sights of NYC.  After attending Manhattan Mennonite Fellowship on Sunday evening, which is held in an old church owned and used by the Friends church, we came back and fell asleep – totally exhausted. Cal and Sharon joined us Sunday evening also, having flown out earlier to spend some time with their son and daughter-in-law.  Monday morning, the whirlwind began. 

After a breakfast of coffee and eggs on our own, which became the norm for the week, we gathered in the living room to take stock of our supplies and plan of attack.  George, being the consummate painter that he is, took charge.  He assigned us to our duties and off we went.  Cal and Sharon headed upstairs to tackle the lofts that are in the guest rooms. Heather and I started downstairs with the walls in the kitchen and dining room.  Bruce and Anne painted and taped wherever George told them to, and George came on behind doing all the hard trimming and hard to reach places.  We fell into a rhythm over the week, with lots of raucous laughter from George, Heather and I.  We found out quickly that the others loved to hear us laughing and singing, which of course made us even louder.  The painting got knocked out quickly.  Though, you might want to ask Cal if he ever wants to paint trim again!

We painted so quickly and thoroughly that we were also able to finish a bathroom, two hallways, all the thick, old trim in said hallways, up two stairways, and the entry doors and foyer, plus ceiling. We did all this plus living room and trim, dining room and trim, kitchen and trim, and all doors and doorways.  It helped that we were nourished by Anne’s good cooking every day at lunch.  One day, we even enjoyed an authentic El Salvadoran meal cooked by a friend from church.  Delicious.  It felt so nice to know we would work, and be served.  It was a combining of servanthood.  The Menno House manager Sara Versluis, who became a good friend and partner in some of our escapades, couldn’t believe all we had accomplished in such a short time.  We told her we were compelled to do so much so we could explore the city, and did we ever explore.   

Every day after painting, we would get ready and head out the door to find the magic – thanks to the Bruce and Anne, who simply know where and when to take us. After orienting ourselves in the Union Square Subway station, which is a whole culture unto itself and became our home base, we zoomed off to downtown.  The first night we went to Ground Zero, somehow scoring tickets to get in when tickets need to be reserved in advance.  Ground Zero was awe-inspiring and reflective.  

With the city rising up around the newly constructed memorials, it wasn’t a sight I’ll soon forget.  From here, we walked and walked around downtown, eventually ending up in Chinatown for some Chinese homemade noodles we won’t soon forget.  Xian Famous Foods became George’s favorite place as we went back later again.  The noodles were thick and spicy, though Sharon’s were a bit too hot for her taste.  She was a trooper and after Anne made her get a less spicy bowl, she was good to go.  A mere hole in the wall, this restaurant had been featured on The Food Network and been visited by Anthony Bourdain and Andrew Zimmern from the bizarre foods show.  Chinatown itself was amazing, winding in and around itself.  

The week all blurs together in my mind as I try to remember all the fabulous things we did.  The picnic at Battery Park and our Staten Island Ferry ride, how our guides timed it just right as the ferry passed by the Statue of Liberty right at sunset, and our walk through Rockefeller Plaza and Times Square.  The lights and sounds in Times Square were unbelievable.  We visited the M & M Store, FAO Schwarz, strolled down 5th Avenue, and walked through St. Patrick’s Cathedral.  Our visit to Max Brenner’s was the chocolate lover’s dream.  I will never forget the desserts we dined on there and how they served them.  Ever drink chocolate straight from a beaker?  I did, then poured it all over my cake.  Oh my. 

A big highlight of the trip was seeing a Broadway show.  Bruce told us if we worked hard and got a lot done that he would have a surprise for us later.  Surprise us he did, as we headed to Broadway Thursday night and took in the show called Mamma Mia.  We got dressed up, headed out, and sat at our first Broadway show – and we loved it.  By the end, I was singing all the songs and rocking in my seat.  It was a fabulous experience, and the theater itself was amazing.  The architecture of the city, period, was so fascinating to see.  

We visited several stores that hold a place in my heart now.  ABC Carpet and Home, housed in a vast building had so much décor to take in.  It was wildly inventive and I wanted everything in there.  Across the street sat Fish’s Eddy, one of Anne’s favorites.  It soon became one of our favorites too.  It had every cup, saucer, bowl, or flatware known to man.  Decorated so wonderfully, it made us want to live in the store! We walked around these streets, also heading into a paper store which held treasures galore. 

George, Heather, and I had Friday night to ourselves and had scored tickets in Times Square to a comedy club.  A little hesitant, but with an adventurous spirit, we went ourselves on the subway and found the club.  We had a roaring good time.  Afterwards, we stopped at a café for more coffee.  I believe we may have visited every diner and café in NYC.  These little corner places are their own subculture.  They are mostly open 24 hours and boy did we ever make use of them.  Every night we would find ourselves in one, not coming home until late.  When we did arrive home, we would upload our pictures of the day to Facebook and laugh ourselves silly until the wee hours.  Our energy seemed to never deplete itself.  

On Saturday, George, Heather, and I had the entire day to fill.  We headed to places we had always wanted to go. After I got my fix of three thrift stores in the area close to The Menno House, at which I scored three books, we headed to Union Square where we sat for a good hour in the park just enjoying the people walk by.  George needs his people watching time, so on lime green chairs we sat with coffee in hand.  A farmers market covered the square and was filled with beautiful greens, pastries, flowers, and people.  After this, we headed to the East Village.  Gray’s Papaya, a famous hot dog stand was where Heather and I wanted to go.  We scarfed down several dogs, took pictures, bought more books from a street vendor and headed down the subway.  The Brooklyn Bridge was next on our agenda and after helping an elderly lady find her way to her train (she couldn’t speak English), walking what seemed a mile in subway tunnels, getting her on the train and finally back to ours, we sped under the water to Brooklyn.  George and Heather were beat, and we needed to find a café to replenish before we trekked across the bridge.  I became the cheerleader, telling them we were going to do this walk – nothing would stop us now!  We had coffee, jell-o and felt rejuvenated enough to start the long walk across.  

Nothing prepares you for the walk across the Brooklyn Bridge.  It is expansive, architectural, and full of wonder.  There are special walkways to cross it, so we meandered slowly, taking pictures of the bridge with the NYC skyline.  It was a special walk, with the winds whipping our hair.  We stopped numerous times to sit and just stare.  After the bridge, we walked through the financial district and into Chinatown again.  We stopped at little stores here and also for more noodles.  George was enamored with the spicy lamb and noodle bowl at Xian Famous Foods.  We walked out of Chinatown and into Little Italy where we sat a good long time at an outdoor café sipping on coffee and authentic Italian pastries.  It was sublime.  As we headed home, late in the evening, we were bone tired, but so glad for our adventurous day and what we had accomplished.  

As we headed home the next morning to Ohio, our thoughts were mixed.  We had come to NYC to serve, but it turned out, NYC had served us.  From Bruce and Anne’s wonderful guiding, to the kids we came to know at The Menno House, to Sara the wonderful manager there and her infectious smile – it was a trip that had nourished our needs as well as us helping to refresh their abode.  We were so happy to get to know Bruce, Anne, Cal, and Sharon in a new way.  They were hilarious, fun, and could out-walk us any day on a city street.  Anne is legendary with her walking, and she is an inspiration.  Heather became rejuvenated in her life as did George and I.  New York City, at a glance, may seem intimidating.  But I suggest getting down to her level, walking the city and seeing the grit and beauty all in one.  Taking part of her lush city parks and tiny shops, drinking coffee at the thousands of lovely places one can do so.  She is now a part of me, and with that, one that longs to go back and meander the streets I didn’t get to see.  This trip was supposed to happen, and we are so glad it did.