Tuesday, January 31, 2012

The Land of the Living :: Volume I

Each day that begins and ends brings us closer to the day we'll pack up all of our books and dishes and shirts and Legos and move a bit further down the road.

What should have been June might now be July and I'm doing my very best to keep the inner cynic in check, because what I'm thinking on a good day is, "They'll never be done by July." On a drearier day, it's more, "This is never going to happen. Never."

There's a thing inside me that feels so much better when I hold the timeline in my own two hands. I've been reluctant to talk about all of this, because what if I'm wrong? What if we're hours away from the rug being yanked out?

As you already know, I hate being wrong. It's embarrassing. But I'm learning. I'm learning that publicly tip-toeing to the edge of the cliff brings a unique brand of exhilaration. It's possible that I'll be wrong, that I'll have to recant. It seems like it wouldn't be the end of the world after all.

So this is our street. If you walk a few blocks further down, you'll come to the school where the kids will attend.

I've gotta tell you, it looked a bit less depressing back in August. Once the leaves fell and everything got all washed up in gray, the latent doubts came back with a vengeance.

This isn't the life I had pictured for my kids. Or me. I pictured us sitting under shade trees in the back yard, bare-feet explorers. We'd harvest cherry tomatoes and cook them up for dinner, far away from the threat of poverty or crime. Far away from anyone at all. We'd sit on the porch at night and almost never think about brokenness. It wouldn't cross our minds. Come night, we'd sleep with the doors unlocked.

I pictured it all so clearly, the colors fully saturated, because I lived it for four years. Four years isn't a long time, in the scheme of things, but it's plenty long enough to remind me for years to come of all that we lost.

I wonder what life will be like after we climb inside these photos with the cracked up streets and the houses that give me the creeps. I'd be lying if I said I never felt a little scared. People tell us with their eyes that it's dangerous. They dance their way around it - what if this is the beginning of the end for your kids? There are drugs over there. There are gangs. The neighbors might not speak English and who will Calvin play with after school?

I hear it all but I feel it even louder, because most of their words aren't spent in breath. Most of their words fall silent in the deep space between their question and our answer. That's what most people want from us, a tidy explanation. We don't really have one, at least not one that can be said in two clipped soundbites with a wink and a smile. Many seem to want reassurance that just because we're doing something stupid, they won't have to. 

So the best I can do is this: God sent us over there. He directed our hearts in a way that was impossible to ignore. He woke us up to the basic truth that this was an option, and we would have never gotten there on our own. This kind of life wasn't on our radar two years ago. Back then, it might have been me with my eyebrows knit together in the middle, saying all I needed to say in a pause that was a beat too long. You're making a big mistake.

When I picture Jesus these days, I picture Him in Gap jeans and a flannel. His hair is longish. His boots are old. I see Him going to places like these, and places that make this look like Vacation Bible School.  He keeps company with those who mourn. He likes talking to people who don't have all the answers. He goes to where life runs thick and dark and he brings the light. His compass points to the place that is the most dangerous, the least comfortable. Why did I ever think my compass should be any different?

So what we'll do is follow Him there. He leads. We follow. He's more than enough light for all that gray.

Yet I am confident I will see the Lord's goodness while I am here in the land of the living. 
Psalm 27:13

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Come Help

I never stop being amazed by the crazy-cool ways God chooses to use His people if they are just willing to say Yes. He created us, He knows us, He speaks to us. He made us with a purpose and a mission imprinted onto our hearts and He gave us everything we need to carry out His plan.

That's some kind of excitement, right there, because the possibilities are endless.

My friend Lindsay recently became connected with a local teen named Madison. Madison started a non-profit organization called Lily's Closet which provides trendy, like-new clothing *for free* to local teenage girls living in poverty. These girls are often broken and hurting in many ways. But also? They want to look cute. Through Lily's Closet they are given the opportunity to "shop" with a personal shopper who will also make sure they know about God's mad love for them and pray with them on their way out the door.

We believe that in meeting a physical need of clothes that these girls have, we are able to meet the much greater spiritual need these girls may have. God has a huge heart for these girls and absolutely moves mountains for them! This is a huge opportunity we have to reach out to broken, hurting girls in our very own community! - From the Lily's Closet facebook page

This is big, loud, think-outside-the-box, age be danged, crazy God love happening. It's being poured out from Madison's hands and feet. Don't you want to be a part of that? I know I do.

Lindsay reached out to Madison, asking what her tangible needs are for getting her vision up and running.The answer? Hanger covers.

It just so happens that Lindsay is one fierce seamstress. She can sew a hanger cover with her eyes closed. But she can't sew 1000 of them.

Which brings me to me. And you.

There are two opportunities to help.

1} Meet us this Thursday (February 2) at the Nappanee Public Library from 6:30 - 8:30pm. If you are a seamstress, bring your machine. If you are like me, come and cut fabric and iron.We need your hands!

2} For those of you who want to help but are not local (Northern Indiana), make some covers and send them to us! To make 25 covers you will need 6 yards of unbleached muslin fabric. A complete supply list, step-by-step tutorial, and downloadable pattern can be found right here. Or, you can email 402CenterStreet@gmail.com and Lindsay will email or snail-mail the pattern directly to you.

Update :: For those of you who have inquired, we will set the deadline for March 1st. You can send all finished hanger covers to Nappanee Public Library 157 N. Main St. Nappanee, IN 46550, attn: Lindsay. Also, Lindsay is checking with Madison regarding those of you who would like to send clothing. Will keep you posted! 

I'm so thankful for the opportunity to be a part of something much greater than myself, and I hope you'll come along, too. Plus, hello? It would be fun to cut some fabric with you in person.

Leave a comment or shoot me an email if you can help in either way.

You're the bomb, you know.


Friday, January 27, 2012

On Convalescing

I'm here again, buried under blankets on the couch. Did you notice how I very casually implied in last night's post that I was under the weather? So polite, I am.

'Cause I'll be honest, what I really wanted to say is that 1) I was bitten by a rogue stomach bug from H-E-double hockey sticks (as Haven would say - at least to us).  2) Said rogue stomach bug ended my fourteen year reign as queen of the non-pukers. I was booted from the throne. Only...I was booted to the throne. The irony is not lost on me.

Aren't you glad I didn't tell you all of that last night? Who wants to read about puke? No one, that's who.

But really, that fourteen year thing. It hurts.

I truly believed my body, through a personal history of food poisoning and sheer strength of will, had adapted itself to eliminate the need for something so...distasteful. I was so proud. And now, here I am, with Cory and all the commoners. What a fall from grace.

Is this how Kim Kardashian feels right now?

I have a new recipe I want to share with you, but it will have to wait a few days. Right now I'm still on a stringent diet of cinnamon toast, applesauce, hot tea and 7-Up.

And chips and salsa.

It couldn't be helped. I was craving something salty and plain tortilla chips seemed innocent enough. But then Ruby heard me crunching and she wanted in on the action. And she wanted "the sauce". Yeah baby, Mama wants the sauce, too.

So I poured myself a little bowl.

See, conventional wisdom says that the ideal post-flu meal is chicken noodle soup. But what happens when chicken noodle soup is the very thing that was...uh...dispelled?

I'm a good wife. I made a giant batch of homemade chicken noodle soup for Cory during his convalescence. It was my best batch yet. I had seconds. Sue me. I followed it with a blood orange for a late night snack.

Chicken noodle soup and an orange made me deathly ill. There's no end to the irony.

For now, I'm feeling mostly better, but don't tell Cory. He's being extra doting and attentive and I plan to milk my convalescence for as long as possible. I think it might recuse me from doing dishes tonight.

Recuse. I don't believe I've ever blogged that word before.

What if the stomach flu made me smarter? I'll keep you posted.

In closing, I have 3 burning comments. I know they're no longer timely, but maybe you'll bear with me. I'm still quite terribly sick, after all. (cough cough)

1. What caused Jessica Biel to wear a dress to the Golden Globes that appeared to give her a third, lace boob? How does this sort of thing happen in Hollywood? She's so pretty, that Jessica Biel. I enjoy the look of her mouth. And I don't care one bit if that sounds creepy. If you're reading this, Jessica Biel, don't feel bad. These things happen and we actually like it when we see that you're just like the rest of us in a very toothsome, Golden Globes-presenting, Justin Timberlake-marrying kind of way.

2. Why in the world did Bradley Cooper look so terrified when he was presenting? #stagefrightfever

3. Why was everyone up in Elton John's grill?

4. Why was everyone up in George Clooney's grill?

5. Why did Angelina Jolie wear a dress that was the exact inverse of my Senior Prom dress?

6. Why didn't she pair hers with dyed-to-match red shoes and red nylons like I did?

7. Doesn't she know how sexy bright red sheer stockings truly are?

8. Why isn't Brad Pitt cute anymore?

9. Why does Zoey Deschanel always look so cute, no matter what?

10. Charlize Theron? Why? Just why?

11. Why do I love Jessica Chastain so much even though I barefly know her?

12. Again with the barefly.

13. Do all the "hot" starlets envy Tina Fey? They should.

I could go on and on. But I'm getting weaker by the minute. Time to dial up salsa delivery and hunker down with season 5 of Friday Night Lights. The clock is ticking, you know... Come tomorrow I'll be up to my elbows again in dishes and personal hygiene and meal prep. So for tonight? I shamelessly convalesce.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Clinging Through the Grit

I'm in a unique time of dependence on God. I need more. I mutter and plead at the strangest times and He probably thinks I'm a little bit neurotic. Maybe He laughs and His eyes get sparkly and He thinks, "Girl, get a grip. It's fine! I've got this." I'm happy to entertain, because He's here. I'm sure of it.  

Could this be an unexpected by-product of all the upheaval and uncertainty and this-world-foolishness of the past four months? Because, honestly? I thought the big life lessons would start rumbling in when we hit phase two (catch up here and here.) This was supposed to be my easy-does-it faux vacation, a stretch of serenity and rest before things started to get dirty. We would be calm and ready then, for whatever comes next.

So can God reach down and show us something new about Himself in a clogged toilet and the stomach flu and kitchen carpet? Can we be teachable in the doubt and wondering and in all the times when we believe that we've really had enough?

Every time I think I've got it down, it starts to make even more sense. It sinks a little deeper: This is the day. The one we're already in. The one that finds us buried on the couch under the down comforter for eight straight hours. The one that stretches months longer than we would have chosen.

There are lessons here. Opportunities now.

So maybe I'm repeating myself. It happens. But today, I'm thankful for the rescuing in all the ridiculous parts of life that don't look holy at first-glance.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Why I Almost Never Talk on the Dang Phone

The scene: It's 4:33 p.m. I'm sitting on my living room floor, folding laundry. In the kitchen, there are sprouts to be brusseled for a 5:20 departure to book club where I am expected/feared to have brussels sprouts in hand. Calvin and Ruby are watching Clifford. Silas is being a quasi-maniac of sorts. My phone rings. It's Courtney, the same Courtney I've been playing phone tag with for two weeks. I take a deep breath, and I answer.

FPFG: Hayyyy! (said unintentionally in a slightly gehetto manner)
CW: Well, helloooooo! (said in a faux Seinfeldish accent)
CW: Is this a bad time? Are you busy?
FPFG: (in a loud whisper) Silas, no-no! You may not hit Ruby with a chair.
CW: (waiting nicely)
FPFG: Oh, uh, no! I'm not busy! I mean.... (long pause) well, just my normal kind of busy.
FPFG: (loud whisper) Silas, STOP.
FPFG: Sorry! Sheesh.
Silas: Where my Chawels?
FPFG: Sorry, Courtney. Hang on. Charles is in the bathroom, Siley. Go get him.

For the next 1.5 minutes, we chatted as though we had not a care in the world.

Right in the middle of Courtney's very important, very dramatic, quite stressful story regarding the release of her debut novel, I realize that I haven't seen Silas or heard Silas for almost TWO minutes.

Fear grips my innards. I run to the bathroom to find my child very casually lathering his hair. With lotion. He stares up at me and just keeps lathering. As thought it's completely acceptable and possibly even appreciated. It does not cross his mind to attempt to look guilty.

I'm trying my best to listen to Courtney's story. I fail and she catches on.

CW: Do you want to call me back?
FPFG: I'm so sorry. And what about the brussels sprouts, dangit? I'll call you back. sorrybye.

I throw Ruby's shower cap on his head, call Courtney back and man my post at the stove where I saute the heck out of the sprouts while we speed-talk for ten minutes. It is loaves-and-fishes miraculous that he keeps the shower cap on until Cory arrives home to rescue us all.

We are out the door at precisely 5:20.(ish)


*Do you think it sends a mixed signal to video something and giggle then say "Yeah, that's not good"? Me either thanks. Also, my favorite part is where Ruby strolls through on a different sort of mission and casually touches his hair, not reacting in ANY way, because this sort of thing happens all. the. time. #immunetothecrazy

Monday, January 23, 2012

Hometown Quirky: Exhibit A

I've talked a lot about my hometown. But maybe I've been a bit unclear: it's quirky. It becomes more obvious with each year that passes.

My non-local friends think "Pleasant Hill" sounds so storybook. It says something about the townsfolk that most of us just call it P. Hill.

Take the laundry mat. It's been there since the days of Methuselah. At first glance, it looks pretty run-of-the-mill.

But then you start to wonder, why is there a vintage, side-ways cash register at the wash station?

And then you get the overwhelming urge to rush home and clean out your attic and your junk drawers.

And then you get a little dizzy. Claustrophobic, even.

So you sidle up to the vending machines, where things take a turn for the bleak.

Yes, there are some peanut butter crackers and trail mix. But what troubles you most is the Lady Speed Stick and the envelope of country gravy. The box of instant pudding doesn't exactly help matters.

You can do a wash, grab dinner, and clean yourself up all in one convenient stop!

Lord have mercy.

I think P. Hill has earned the honor of being the setting in a novel. Kenny and Becky would be right at home, and so would I.

Also, Lucille Linder. She'd be at home, too.

Tell us something quirky about *your* hometown. We're all ears.

*Holly - Please note that Lucille is not chained or restrained in any manner. She's simply choosing to appeal to our sympathies when she could be running wild in the pasture. :)

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Ten Loves Lately

1} Dove Bliss dark chocolates.

2} The February issue of Lucky magazine. There's just something about it that makes me feel like maybe all hope is not lost in my closet and in my head. Plus it's not smutty.

3} Midnight in Paris. Owen Wilson's schmuck-schtick worked here. I adore Rachel McAdams. The whole story was quirky and endearing. And the setting! And the score! And her wardrobe! I even gained some valuable writing advice that I'll probably never take. Three cheers for Woody Allen!

4} This line of hair products. a) you can buy them at the grocery store. on sale. b) they smell good. c) they make me feel like I have an actual regimen of sorts, and that just never happens.

5} My denim shirt. It snaps. I'll be honest, it is fun to rip those snaps open at the end of the day. It makes me feel so alive! But mostly, I love that a) I bought it years ago for $16.99 at American Eagle. b) the sleeves are long enough. c) it goes with just about everything.

Last Sunday I wore it with my very favorite skirt from over 10 years back. The skirt has the texture and density of a throw rug. I like to call it my horse blanket skirt. I have no explanation for my claw. I truly do not. I cropped my head out of this shot because I looked like a raggedy wildebeest. You wouldn't blame me if you saw it.

Do you blame me? Well, I blame the wind. And my lack of prep time. Sunday mornings will do that to a girl.

(I feel inclined to note that every single part of this outfit (except the boots) is at least three years old. The skirt and belt are ancient relics from the days when I got up every morning, blow-dried my hair, put on mascara, and drove to a job. The life lesson here? Go to your closet and put things together that you have never imagined. It will probably work. I was just struck yesterday with the inspiration to pair my navy gingham button down with my aqua cable-knit vest. Stay tuned.)

Later that night, I wore the shirt with my glazed pecan cords and a pink belt my sister gave me, circa 1998. It's so wrong, it's right. Or at least that's what I tell myself.

The very next day, I wore the exact same outfit. I surely did.

I just really love that shirt, man.

6} Veggie bowl from Chipotle. Free guac! Score. And they now offer brown rice. Dou. Ble. Score.

7} My slipper boots. And no, my feet are not actually that big.

If I stand, let me stand on the promise that you will pull me through.
And if I can't, let me fall on the grace that first brought me to you.
If I sing, let me sing for the joy that has born in me this song.
And if I weep, let it be as a man who is longing for his home.                                             - If I Stand, Rich Mullens                              

Rich Mullens. He was a poet to his core and his poetry just happens to be the kind that makes me feel like my soul took a big gulp of the best kind of air. It clears my head, his poetry.

9} My fleece sheets. They are like sleeping in a cloud. A really warm cloud. (TJ Maxx)

10} All of youn's. I'm still getting the kindest, most sincere emails and comments. Your gratitude and goodness humble me. I cannot thank you enough.

What are you digging these days?

Thursday, January 19, 2012

My Bliss for Now

We woke up to snow. The really swirly, blustery kind.

This can be a good or bad thing. Today? Way, way good. We had nowhere to be. We require at least one Home Day per week. This was it, baby.

Ruby spent the morning in her gymnastics leotard. I spent mine in all fleece, all the time.

 Before long, we were in a state of utter disarray.

And there was nuttin' good for lunch.

About lunch: I'm getting pickier and pickier about it. I can roll with the punches, but I really prefer not to. I'm good with a turkey sandwich. Left-overs. Etc... We had none of the above. The kids were going to have chicken nuggets with a sickening amount of ketchup. I just couldn't bear it.

So I fed them, then put some soup on for Mama while Silas finger-painted with his yogurt.

As the soup simmered, I decided that a grilled Muenster and avocado sandwich would be the perfect companion. But I was afraid that the kids might somehow know that grilled Muenster and avocado trumps frozen nuggets. It was a risk I wasn't willing to take. So I waited.

It was all rather accidental.

But the closer we got to nap-time, the more badly I needed to take myself out to lunch.

I used proper dishes and sat at the table. Not the desk. Not the couch. The plastic fold-up table. Because I'm worth it. (said in my best L'Oreal spokesmodel voice-over) I ignored the unfolded laundry and the books strewn across the floor and the hanging upside-down doll.

On a lark, I grabbed My Father's Daughter off the library pile and settled in.

I have a strange fascination with Gwyneth. She somehow comes across as both friend-next-door and snob-o-rama. Won't the real Gwynnie P. please stand up? Please stand up?

I'm intrigued by her past relationships. I remember when I was in college and she had her cool-as-snot short hair and Brad Pitt proclaimed her his "angel". That seems like it could be a little intimidating for any/all following suitors. Hold on, I'll ask Cory.

FPFG: Honey, would you be intimidated if Brad Pitt once called me "his angel" in a magazine interview?
CMB: (laughs)
FPFG: Ferreal.
CMB: Nope.
FPFG: Nope?
CMB: Why would he say that?
CMB: Ohhhh!
CMB: I would expect him to say that if he dated you.

I couldn't make this stuff up if I tried, people. Not the weird confused part or the really sweet part.

I still think it would be weird though. I'm sticking to it. What say you, Ben Affleck? (I'm not ashamed to say it: I own Bounce on dvd.) Luke Wilson? (I like the guy. I just do. He's down-homey.)

Remember the pink Ralph Lauren Oscar gown that she rocked sans unnecessary uh... padding. I gotta tell you, I was endeared.

But then there was the whole BFF with Madonna thing. And the fake British accent thing. And the Shallow Hal thing.

I was torn.

Am torn.

Until round about 1:10 today.

I liked her book. She loves food and she's passionate about feeding her family well. She seemed really normal and mostly relatable and I liked all of her white shirts and yes, she's got very toned arms and now, I'm happy to report to her and you and the rest of the world that I am her new secret, pretend BFF!

Step off, Madonna.

I did have one concern, and it's important. She never, ever, not a single time, mentioned her husband, Chris. This is not good, Gwynnie. Not good at all. Why can't he be a "heart of your artichoke", along with Apple and Mosey? There's room for one more. Right? Hasn't he written songs for you? Didn't he rap about your boobs when you were pregnant??

(They are still together - right? Have I somehow missed an important link on the chain of her love life? Yes, I could Google it. But I trust you more.)

Anyway, Gwyn. We can discuss this further the next time you have me over for your warm tuna nicoise salad.

Mario Batali writes in the forward of her book:
And when the food, and its preparation, becomes so much more than mere nourishment, when it becomes entertainment and folly and libidinal pleasure all rolled into one thing? At that point every meal, every snack, every shared moment of sustenance can be a celebration.

Sitting there clanking my spoon against the bowl in the relative peace and quiet of that solitary hour, I couldn't have possibly agreed more. Except about the libidinal pleasure part, because that's just taking the food thing too far.

 :: :: :: ::

FPFG's Quick-Lunch Soup
Saute garlic and chopped onion in a little warm olive oil.
Add some chicken stock or broth and one can of Italian diced tomatoes.
Throw in some dried basil and oregano and black pepper.
Bring to a boil and add some pasta. The bow-ties are prettier, I'm not gonna lie.
Cook until pasta is soft (I overdid it a bit today) then add a can of rinsed Canellini beans.
Top with grated parm.

I prefer to throw in something green like fresh spinach, zucchini, kale, etc... But desperate times call for desperate quick-lunch soup. It was still very good.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

We Can Be Alright

The bad news is, I've gained 87 pretend pounds today from all of the pretend banana bread, banana cake, cream cheese frosting, banana muffins, chocolate chip cookies, crack bark, chips and salsa and margaritas you sent. One friend sent me a pretend banana, because it's all she could muster (cracked me up). And one friend sent me REAL Peace Tea! Huzz.

I'm all jacked up on pretend potassium over here.

I did cry a time or two, and I blame you for that. It was a collective outpouring of tears - the cummulative effect of allayall'zes kindness.

Being prone to over-thinking as I am, I feared for a moment that it was all too much. I shared to ease my own mind and maybe yours. I thought the sharing was the help. I somehow didn't expect to feel so much big, bad love from so many corners. I mean - I know you're awesome in every way. I should have known. I was probably just too blue to remember.

Anyway, thank you one million times over. Thank you for making me feel less troll-like and for not texting me numbers for psychiatrists or referring me to the Dr. Phil website.

I just partook of my much-belated Christmas dinner with Sarah. I had a New York strip (medium) and caramelized brussels sprouts with loaded mashed potatoes. And tomato kalamata bruschetta for appetizer.

Maybe food does help. Maybe so.

My eyeballs burned all through dinner and I wanted to rest my head on the seat of the booth. Sarah wouldn't have cared. But I was there, dadgummit. I went out and cleared my head. I howled at the moon (so to speak) with my best mate Missy Higgins. I laughed too hard - something about Sarah informing me that we were scandalously hussy-ish in high school, and by hussy-ish, I mean that we secretly pined for multiple boys at the same time. As I told her, we had no choice. We had to keep many irons in the fire, because who knew when someone might actually bite? No one ever really did. At least not for a long time. And when they did? Well, they were jerks. I'm sorry to say it.

Be honest, are you more concerned about me than ever? Are you finding me unstable? I understand. I do. I wondered myself.

But then I remembered that we are allowed our bad days, man. We're also allowed a hearty boomerang. Tomorrow's a crap shoot. It could go either way and that's okay. Because right now - in my eyeliner and my skinny jeans, I feel like I just might survive.

So know that you're not alone in the crazy. Know. It.

But when a glazed brussels sprout hits you in the face, I hope you'll see it for what it is. I hope you'll grab on to it and...eat it. Duh. But then I also hope you'll hold it up to the light and dance around with it a little. I hope you'll hold it to your heart and notice that it helps.

Admittedly, holding tiny cabbages to one's bosom feels slightly awkward. Push through.

One more thing: Yesterday after the Great Toilet Melt-Down Ruby came out dressed in this.
I'm not gonna lie. I laughed. I said, "Ruby!......."
She smiled kinda shy and it broke my heart clean through because I realized she wasn't trying to entertain me. Sister was dead serious. She said, "I really like matching."
Then the clincher, "I wanted to match like this so you would know how much I love you."

Just slay me now. Go on ahead.
She marched around like this all day and do you know what? I felt the love.

Now what I really want to know is this: What was your bright-shiniest boomerang moment today? What was your bosom brussel? I promise it was there, somewhere. Find it and spill it.

All my light for you tonight,

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Sharing the Hard

{For You. And You.}

In my mind lives a mental list of cards I want to send and emails I should return. I'd like to read a big stack of books. I'd like to be a better friend. I'd really like to get caught up with Liz Lemon - I miss her. I think about all of these things, all throughout the day, but when it comes to this - a quiet house - I'm just done. Altogether, in every way.

On Saturday I may have had a panic attack. It's possible. True, I have weirdo health issues that have made random chest pain a part of my life, but this time was different. I stood alone in my living room while my heart thumped out of my chest. I felt like Pepe Le Pew when he sees his skunk crush - I could swear the imprint of my heart was pushing out through my ribcage. I thought, This can't be a panic attack. I don't panic. But the longer my heart thumped, the more I remembered that my life has become a fight to survive. And I never thought I would say that. I am on my game every split second of every single day because it's not optional. I worry that everyone else is drowning in the wake. I worry that I've lost my mind.

And somehow, a lot of the time, I do it with a smile. This is the part that scares me.

I'm not smiling because I'm fake or clueless or Pollyanna. I'm smiling because I have found that life is better when it's mostly seen as a gift and I go down with the ship if I stop smiling for too long. I'm smiling because all of this crazy has become all I know.

If there were an Olympics for griping and self-pity, then I'd take the bronze. You might as well just know that. And if you're inclined not to believe me, I'll get you Cory's number. But I like to think that the scales of my life tip in the favor of the smiles. It makes me feel sane to believe that and sane is good, or at least as far as I can recall.

Then I remember how I burst into quasi-inconsolable tears this morning when the toilet clogged while Cory is out of town. I saw no possibility that the world was right or good in light of the clogged toilet. I tried to unclog it. I almost vomited. (*Important side-note: my mortal fear in life is clogged drains of all kinds. Clogged toilets give me nightmares and the shakes.)

Ruby sat by me and rubbed my back while I cried. My instinct was I should be hiding, but even clearer was the voice telling me that I don't ever want Ruby to feel like she has to hide. I want her to know that it's okay to feel all of these things. I sat there and cried and I thought of all of the women whose husbands are deployed right now. They probably save their emotional breakdowns for more important things. I wanted to bake them some banana bread and spritz some perfume on their hair. I thought of all of the moms dealing with the same kid stuff I'm dealing with and I wanted to march into their homes and demand that they go take a nap while I hold down the fort.

My muddied-up heart started to see that this is one reason we feel pain. It makes us human. It connects us. We remember the bruises and we recognize them on the hearts of others. I'll take empathy over sympathy any day.

I don't know when this season of my life will pass, but I do know that it will. In the meantime, I'll scratch and claw for some sanity. I'll daydream about getting out to do something fun, all the while knowing that there's no way in heck I'll have the energy to actually do it. I'll pray that my friends don't give up on me. I'll cut myself some slack, dang it.

If you know anything about me, or if you know enough to imagine certain things about me, or if you recognize yourself in me, then you can imagine what it feels like to blow my own cover. Please, I beg of you, do not nicely suggest that I might be depressed or that I should seek the counsel of a professional. Number one: Maybe I am. I don't think so, but it's probably too early to tell. I'll keep you posted. Number two: If I have to seek the counsel of one more professional right now I might show up naked and raging with troll hair and a wild look in my eyes. It could be the very thing that throws me over the edge.

What you can do is send your prayers my way. Or even better, find someone around you who needs help and go help her. Give her the benefit of the doubt or a manicure. Something. Then tell me about it. I like those kinds of stories.

As for you, if you're feeling beaten-down by a very small person, if your brain requires so much daytime vigilance that it revolts entirely at 8pm, if you are sick to death of calls from doctors reminding you that your kid has a serious, costly illness, if you're still not sure where you'll be living in June, if you're so dang tired that you cannot sleep at night, if you believe that you will never finish your stupid book, if you very quietly cuss at your carpeted kitchen sometimes, if plungers make you cry, if you're feeling misunderstood or judged, if you're tired of guessing and failing and grasping, if your husband brought you flowers yesterday because it really is that dire, if you're feeling left behind and maybe just a smidgen crazy (like really, truly crazy), please know that I am right here with you.

I'll bake you a pretend loaf of banana bread if you'll do the same for me.

Monday, January 16, 2012

One Word :: Seek

I tried to make myself believe this year that I didn't need a resolution and that I didn't even need a word. You know the ones - the "pick one word and focus on it all year long" ones. I figured I had enough to focus on. I didn't need one more word.

Also, I purposely like to jump off band-wagons. It's a long-standing inclination of mine.

The problem is, I just really like words. I like love them. I love the way I can fit them together in a way that tells myself how I feel about an important thing. I love that I can butcher them up at will and they still take my calls the next day. 

At first I thought my word was "Surrender", because I've still got a lot of crap I need to let go of.

But on further review, the choice was obvious. Seek.

It's phase two of surrender, or at least it is for me. I feel like I've taken up surrender over the past year in the very same way I took up the saxophone in fifth grade. I  picked it up and started practicing, but mostly I kept it in its case. I lugged that blasted thing home most days just for the sake of doing it, because it was expected. Of course, the real expectation was not to haul it to and from school every day. I was supposed to pull it out, dust it off and really get to know it. I was supposed to fall in love with it. Instead of falling in love, I did just enough to do well. I missed the possibility of a sweeping affair.

At first letting go of things and ideas and the house of my dreams felt like a lynching. But then it started to feel exhilarating. And now it feels lost, somedays. How does that happen in the span of a year?

I think I'm just hauling it around. I think I'm saying, "Alright God. Come and find me. Send people my way. Give me some great ideas. I'll hook it up." I'm lugging it around and yeah, it's still cumbersome enough to make me feel like I'm doing something. But it's heavy and I don't like the way it bangs against my knees. I'd rather save myself the trouble, some days.

Surrender only gets you so far when all it is is a willingness, a good girl thing to say and think and believe. It's the slightly edgier cousin to "I'd go...but I'm not called." Surrender is giving - not just saying that I'm willing to give. It's active, not passive.

So now I look all around and I still see people with the capacity to smash me open and drain me out. They're out there. They're around town, even if they're not landing conveniently on my doorstep.

If I give a rip - and I do - I'll find them. I'll hunt them the heck down. I'll pull surrender out of the box and play it.


I'd like to seek the heart of God more. I'd like to go there first, for a change.

I'd like to stalk the little glimmery bits hidden in what have been long stretches of hard, gray days.

I know for sure that when I go looking for things, I almost always find them.

So here I am. I'm looking.

The Lettered Cottage

Friday, January 13, 2012

Broken Beauty

A few weeks back, Cory and I went on a double-date with Sarah and Rick. This was our first true double, and that's just a crying shame.

You already know that Sarah and I go way back (here and here, for starters.) But it's really more than that.

When I was sixteen, I was rolled out of my high-school on an ambulance stretcher, very sure I was having a heart attack. I wasn't. But when I finally made it home that day, so tired of being the sick kid with the weird problems, feeling all embarrassed and still a little scared, hers was the number I dialed. She was what I needed. I wanted her to pray for me that day, because I believed all the way down that her prayers were always answered.

She has been my antidote to many of life's thrashings. She listened through the sludge of dumb mistakes until she heard my broken heart and then she kept on loving it.

She remembers my celebrity crushes better than I do. She knows the books I'll love most. She understands when I cancel our Christmas dinner on account of cramps and a bad attitude.

Two decades ago, she rumbled into my life in the passenger seat of a beat-up burgundy van packed full of who-knows-what. (I never bothered to investigate.)

Her dad was the driver. He looked like a renegade and spoke in a whisper.

He dropped her off at church and sometimes I rode back home with them, the three of us squeezed in together, along with everything else.

We'd thunder down the lane, hop out near the barn and walk in to a home where I always felt right.
It was warm inside, smelling like bacon and the kerosene heater. We spent hours upstairs talking about boys and reading magazine tips on eyeshadow and zit remedies.

The years rolled on and I kept my grip on Sarah, who kept her grip on me. Things changed all around us and they just kept changing. They never stopped. Choices were made and hearts were shattered and stitched back. Love bloomed wild. Jobs were landed. We held the slick keys of our first real freedom.

Then one night a phone call reeled me from a dream and it was her, just two buildings down. She said her dad had been in an accident. He was gone.

Our voices were small that night, in the car. Her heart was broken and the part of mine that was her broke with it. We drove back home to Ohio, on streets lined with sleeping houses. In the quiet, in the dark, we tried to force ourselves to feel what had happened. For me it was hard. It was too pitch black to make sense. It was too much change, too much sad, and I didn't know what to do, so I did what we had both always done; I stayed the same for her.

I think about her dad more often than she knows. I think about his ponytail and his wind-burned cheeks. I wish I hadn't been sixteen back then, because sixteen doesn't make room for the dad who drives the beat up van. It doesn't make room for the mom cooking dinner at the table.

I want to tell my Sixteen to notice that he's an artist and his art is right there, right in the barn that I walked past without another notion.

I want to tell Sixteen that someday, she'll care about his art. She'll see for herself the piercing beauty in junk redemption.

I think of him bending low, hoisting up, hauling out the things that everyone else had long given up on. I picture him smiling on the inside over what they were all too blind to see.

He made a home for broken things. He loved them into something exquisite and new.

Maybe he knew his own brokenness well enough to recognize it in a shard of pottery or a splinter of wood. Maybe I know mine well enough to recognize it in him.

*all photos courtesy of cmb

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Current Snapshot

Today's been a mixed bag. It began with a fitful night's sleep where the last dream I remember involved me putting molding paste in my short, spiky hair.

I woke up with an inexplicable urge to clothe myself in various argyles.

From there I dodged fitful smalls, got schooled in a game of Memory, was poked in the eye, and cleaned out the fridge for left-overs night.

But the very best news? My tiniest, wiriest Homeslice peed in the potty. Twice. Here's what I'll say about that: There are people who will tell you until they are blue in the face that you shouldn't force potty training. They'll say that you should wait until he's ready. That if he's wigged out over it, he's definitely not ready. Well, we played that game two months ago until I threw up my hands and convinced myself that I'm an unfit mother, unable to carry out something so significant.

Then yesterday I rallied. I said, "Silas, I'm done playing that game."

And he said, "I play a game! I. PLAY. A. GAAAAAAAAAAAAAME!" And he glared at me a little.

Then I remembered my audience and said something along the lines of, "Get your hiney into the bathroom. Stat."

He was mostly ambivalent. He held out for hours then produced two drops and how is that even possible? Well, it is.

Today when I escorted him to bathroom he screeched and wailed as though he was being carried to his certain doom. He seemed a little scared, if I'm being honest. I wavered, but only for a nanosecond. Then I wrangled him into tiny Elmowears and plastic pants ("I no like the klastics!"). I made him sit on that danged potty seat and I wasn't mad, but happy might be a stretch.

Then he peed a little.

And later he peed a lot.

And then he told me how much he likes underwear and topped the whole thing off with "You make me happy."

 "Say cheese!"
(his camera/subway ticket from South Korea)

So here we have a bright, shiny, extra-silver lining. I'm reminding myself that tomorrow holds no guarantees. But tonight, I might just sleep less fitfully. Maybe.

Meanwhile, I came across one of these random surveys here  (thanks, Bethany!) and thought I'd fling my hat into the ring because 1) I love reading them and 2) It fits my current brain capacity.

current guilty pleasure: Daily's peach margarita and Sarah's back issues of Glamour
current nail color: Say what??
current playlist: Leeland - The Great Awakening "Arise and shine shake yourself from the dust God is calling us to go."
current read: When Helping Hurts, Sacrilege, Second Hand Heart,
current drink: Lipton Green Tea Superfruit with Red Goji and Raspberry
current food: Chicken tortilla soup with avocado
current favorite show: Damages
current wish list: a vintage red, metal Radio Flyer wagon
current needs: more patience
current triumphs: see above  
current bane of my existence: Lainey Courtland
current celebrity crush: Ryan Gosling and/or Daniel Craig
current indulgence: Sonia Kashuk No. 4 bergamot candle circa 2007 that I'm just now burning and it smells so slammin' good and why did I wait so long? Also,  this.
current blessing: 2 Thessalonians 1:11b
current outfit: brown cords, gray argyle sweater, white T, turquoise argyle socks, fuchsia house slippers
current excitement: A pending trip to Rockford
current mood: antsy
current link: I'm newly obsessed with Jen Hatmaker's blog and can't wait to get my mitts on her new book. For now, read this and this.

Does anyone want to play along? Please play along. Please scratch my nosy itch. Be my reality tv. I'll crunch my chips to the tune of you. You're way funnier than the Kardiashians, after all, and far less crazy than the Bachelorettes. (Leave your link in the comments.)


Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Dinner and a Book

My mind is a world that few would ever dare trespass. In a matter of seconds, it can shift from pondering the plights of humanity or the important questions of faith to "What the heck is for dinner?"
So tonight, I welcome you into the Gravitron that is my brain. There's often no up or down. It spins fast and furious and you may feel like you're being pinned to the wall against your will or better judgment. Also, there might be the lingering scent of fair food or other fried delicacies. There are no carnies there, at least none that I'm aware of.

(Scratch that last part. I just remembered I've got Kenny and Becky in there somewhere...)

 Earlier today I realized that Calvin's perfect attendance Fazoli's coupon expires tomorrow, so I chucked my previously planned dinner for the dream of 3 greasy breadsticks and the promise of spaghetti with tomato sauce.

I'm a girl who loves food in almost all forms, and that includes the fast ones. I like to think that it grounds me, somehow. True, I might live in a 1950's housewife's dream home and yes, I might have invented the world's most fantastic hairdo, but at the end of the day, I'll take a burrito supreme, a hard shell taco supreme and a fountain Pepsi. Extra mild sauce.

The only problem with my spaghetti fantasy is that I forgot that Calvin is the Homebody of the Century. I was so excited to tell him the plan. I was all, "Psst! I have a secret! We're going to Fazoli's tonight so you can get your free kids meal!"

Calvin: Uh, can we go tomorrow?
Me: Nope.
Calvin: I know! What about this weekend?!
Me: It expires tomorrow. It's gotta be today. Help a sister out here. I need butter on my fingers in a bad, bad way.
Calvin: I want to just stay home.
Me: Why?
Calvin: Because we haven't been home in a lot of days.
(Editor's Note: We had our book club dinner last night, so by "a lot of days", he means exactly one day.)

So here's what we ate, our previously scheduled, briefly canceled, ultimately delicous meal. And it was a newbie.

Exhibit A) My new favorite salad.

Thinly slice chicory lettuce and a granny smith apple. Add toasted walnuts and canellini beans. Whisk together 3 T olive oil, 1 T cider vinegar, 1 tsp. dijon mustard, one minced clove of garlic, 1/2 tsp. dried tarragon, 1/4 tsp. salt and 1/4 tsp. pepper. Toss it all up. Throw some gorgonzola on the side, because it's impossible to photograph if you dump it on top.

I found the recipe in this months BH&G and modified it a little. I will eat it for the next two days, or until I'm all outta beans, whichever comes first.

Exhibit B) Butternut Squash Risotto also from the Jan. BH&G.

My first attempt at risotto last year was a miserable, dismal failure. Despite Martha's claims, you really can't make risotto with long grain rice. Unless you are her. I think I got Punk'ed.

The arborio rice made all the difference and if there were left-overs, I promise you I would put this computer down and go serve myself up another bowl at 10:39 in the pea-em. It was that good. I called it "cheesy rice" and the kids couldn't shove it in their mouths fast enough. God bless you, Kraft Macaroni & Cheese, for teaching the youth of America that neon yellow-orange food is a good thing.

Overall, 2 thumbs way up, all around.

Now, the book. My appetite for reading is trumped only by my appetite for acidic foods and my appetite for wearing yoga pants in public. In all of my writing over the past year, my reading has taken a back-back seat. But times are a'changing. I've started a few new books and I'm making a list of books to come, but there are a few that just stay with me, like a secret wish or a trusty sidekick. My Gravitron comes back to them again and again. Radical is one of them.

Our possessions can be deadly. They can be subtly deadly...That's why Jesus said it's hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God...The reality is, most of us in our culture and in the American church simply don't believe Jesus or Paul on this one. We just don't believe that our wealth can be a barrier to entering the kingdom of God. We are fine with thinking of affluence, comfort, and material possessions as blessings. But they cannot be barriers. We think the way the world thinks - that wealth is always to our advantage. But Jesus is saying the exact opposite. Radical - David Platt

Chew on that.

Thoughts? Reactions? Hit me.

We've got sauerkraut, sausage and pickled beets on the menu tomorrow. Who's coming over?

Peace Out, Party People,

Sunday, January 8, 2012

A Face For Radio

This year, part of our Christmas gift to our kids was a trip to the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago. Uncle Landon and Aunt Lori pitched in, too.

Truth be told, the gift was Cory's idea. And it just so happens that he is a full-on freak when it comes to ocean life. You do the math.

Calvin's a pretty big fan though, too. He took his almanac so he could "study" on the way.

We put on our bravest face and brought Siley along. It stuns even me to see that he really is growing. He's learning. Progress is slower than frozen honey at times, but I'll take it any way it comes. He did a fantastic job at the aquarium, though he was there more to push those informational buttons than to actually look at the fish. Whatevs.

{Love Bug}

Homeboy loves to mug for the camera. He asked Daddy to take his picture then immediately dropped to his knees. It was a very well-thought-out pose. He clearly had this one planned for a while, and he pulled it off, if I do say so.

As for the ocean life: Why are fish so dang freakish looking? It's the lips that do me in. And the bug eyes.

And the binocular noses.
But mostly, it's the lips. The whole mouth region, really.

 She's not so bad...

There was one fish that reminded me of my favorite pin striped shirts. He screamed J Crew. The rest of them weren't pageant winners, that's for darn sure.

Haven's gonna love this picture. 
(Do you love it, Havis?) 

It's one of my all-time favorites in the history of the new world. We were waiting for the aquatic show to begin. We were literally on the edge of our seats. Don't we look positively enraptured?  I wish I knew what Haven was saying right then. Probably, "I'm ferreal!" or something like that.

When the much-anticipated show finally started, it was 75% "This is how we train the fish" and 25% "Watch these dolphins do synchronized tricks!"

Seriously, know your audience, Shedd. Hundreds of pre-schoolers don't give a hoot about the trainers. No offense. Also, I don't really give a hoot. I just want to see fish do tricks. Lots of flips and tricks and the blowing of water out of blow-holes. And maybe it's true that dolphins aren't fish. And maybe it's true that I should have taken the opportunity to actually learn something.

But at the end of the day, that's why I have Calvin.
   :: DON'T DO IT! ::

The jellies were captivating. Don't even call them jelly fish. Don't even. Cause we totally know better, now.  We'll be all, "Oh no you di'int! Jellies are not fish. They don't have bones, hearts, or a brain. They move with the currents. They are both simple and complex, Haters."

(Holy cow, I did learn something!)

Upon review, it was the penguins that Ruby and I loved best, all barrel-bodied and quick-stepping. Calvin picked "touching the sea star" and "the pretend submarine" and the sharks. Cory holds closest to his heart the sea turtle. Silas loved the buttons. I have no earthly clue what Haven liked best, but she did seem fond of the many strategically-placed benches.

There was something for everyone and we saw a ton in just a few hours. But what I really love the most is that we all did it together. We did it a little crazy and a lot happy. We were cranky a time or two. We were hungry and funny. There may or may not have been some barfing involved.

It wasn't perfect, but it was perfectly us.

*All photos courtesy of CMB.