To My White Friends And Family

I won’t have  much to say about #Ferguson today because so many are doing it much better. But I will ask you, my white friends and family to please consider–before you speak–about what it means to be black in America today. Before you say anything, please consider: our reality is not the same as that of black Americans, of black young men.

No matter how you twist it around, no matter how much you wish to “reason” this away and say that it isn’t a racial thing, no matter how much this makes no sense to you, please stop before you speak. Please consider before you speak, because if it makes no sense to you, it is because it is not your lived reality.

I love you. I do. And I’m asking you to do what I am doing today: listen, read things that make you uncomfortable, be thoughtful, and recognize that our lives are impacted differently in almost every interaction we have out in the world by the fact of our white skin.

With hope that we will be the change we need in the world, please, go in peace.

 

Finding My Feet

There is a turkey to brine and a mother to pick up at the airport. A bed to make, a bathroom to clean–again. And breakfast–why do we have to do THAT every. single. day.

But in this minute, I am sitting quietly in my chair, a cat at my feet and one behind my head, gathering my wits which have flung themselves throughout this house and beyond, waiting for me to catch up.

I woke up with fragments of a poem in my head and I wonder now if it is worth trying to piece it together again–especially as I realize it has already been written by Peter Mayer in his song God is a River. This song has been pulsing though me over the last few weeks as I made the decision to leave my rock behind.

It has been a rock, this work that I did. It was how I defined myself beyond the other standard definitions of wife, mother, daughter. The work and the place I did it gave me a sense of being, a reason, an understanding of myself. And as I watch the wind blow the branches on a barren tree outside my door, I realize that that understanding is not tied to the rock, but to me. I shall carry it with me as I flow with the river, as I did when I left a job after my eldest daughter was born, and as we left the southwest without a job, without a house, in order to arrive here, in the Midwest, where a new life was born.

I remember back then, in 1996, when my husband, two daughters (third one wasn’t here yet), and two (different) cats made the journey from Arizona to Indiana a week after a blizzard hit the new region and rerouted our planned drive to air travel. I remember living in my mother-in-law’s house while my husband looked for and got a job. I remember all the uncertainty of the moment. But more than anything, I remember Thelma Jean, my mother-in-law of the impossible smile, who looked at me with big eyes and said “you are so brave.”

What? Me? I stammered in my self-deprecating manner that I have honed all these years. I’m not brave.

“Yes,” she said. “You’ve left everything you know, your family is so far away.”

I have so often thought of that moment since she passed away. Of her wide eyes and what brave looked like to her. To me, brave was leaving everything and moving to Spain without a firm grasp of the mother-tongue.  Or space travel. Or serving in the military. Or writing a book where I shared myself with an honesty that would hurt. Brave was not moving from one family to another.

But it was, I see now. It was brave and it was hard and it redefined me in ways I could never have predicted. Oh, and I railed against those changes. Until I didn’t anymore.

I’ve stood on this cliff before–or, to get back to the metaphor–I’ve been upstream in this river before, holding tightly to another rock. And I’ve let go before, and I found my current and rode it to the next rock. And I will be doing that all my life–trusting, always trusting that my feet will find me (like my wits), even if I have a hard time landing them in the current.

I am so full of gratitude for the opportunities that have presented themselves to me in the past, and I am looking forward to whatever is next. Whether I am doing this with courage or stupidity, we shall all find out. But for now, there is a turkey to brine and a mother to pick up at the airport. And wits to be collected … or maybe I can check that one off the list now.

Be brave, dear friends, in whatever way is brave for you.

 

A New Year

Holy cupcakes, friends, have I got news! On December 5, after ten years, I will leave my current position with Meadville Lombard Theological School for … well I’m really not sure.

I am filled with many emotions right now–and am so grateful for the loving and kind messages I am receiving from people I have met during my time at Meadville. And what a group of people to have met! I don’t want to list names because I know I will leave someone off, but I will say that any job you have that includes hugs from Mark Morrison-Reed  on a regular basis is a job worth having.

I truly am grateful for the gifts of these past 10 years, and to have been witness to the work done by the leadership, faculty and staff at Meadville Lombard as they created a new way of not just education, but formation for ministry. I see the work our students are doing during their formation in community and congregational settings–of the work they do to take the good news (and work) of Unitarian Universalism out into the world–and I feel confident in the future of our denomination and our society.

I am leaving with a heart both heavy and light–not unlike the hundred or so incoming seminarians I have met over the years. The excitement of my next adventure is both tempered and fueled by the fact that I really don’t know what is going to happen next. My plan is to write, to cook, to knit, and to spend the holidays with my family with a mind only cluttered with gift lists and menu plans.

January will come soon enough, a new year for a new plan, and this new blog. So stay tuned …

Dear Daughters

Dear Daughters,

Your father and I just came in from raking the side yard, hopefully for the last time this year. There wasn’t much left, but enough that we couldn’t, as much as I wanted to, leave it on the grass. I was going to let your dad do it all himself and stay in and rake the cat hair that is all over the house, but the weather was nice enough and, well, you know how much better tasks like this are with help.

As we were heading down to the street with the leaves, I couldn’t help but think back to all the years we have raked here and all the times that we have done it together (just last weekend when eldest daughter and boyfriend were here, in fact). But we raked all the leaves straight down to the road today–no blue tarp full of leaves and one or two small children. And once in the road, the leaves just sat there, as if they, too, were waiting for a small face to peek out from underneath them.

I miss you. Even youngest child is away today, at her work of being a debater on the school team.

Raking the leaves is not the same without the drama of someone being unhappy that they have the bad rake, or someone faking a hamstring injury, or everyone STARVING or DYING of  a thirst that can only be quenched by hot chocolate.

But what I really wanted to tell you today, what I was really thinking about as I was raking the leaves, is how I remember all that drama fondly, now. And I can, because I see who you have become–a picture that wasn’t always clear when we couldn’t get everyone outside at the same time without some sort of histrionics (and I include myself in that, too).

I see who you are now, and, more clearly, I see who your father and I are now. I sent your dad out to do the raking himself, but realized that just isn’t going to cut it anymore. Because I went out and helped him, the two of us are now inside, drinking coffee and doing chores. Because I went out and helped him, it got done in an hour and during that hour, I was able to rake and reminisce and wonder at who we all are now, and how we got here.

That I had doubts about us being right here, right now, should come as no surprise. We have had ups and we have had downs–us parents with you kids, and us parents with each other. It hasn’t been a particularly easy road, but neither has it been all bad. Even in the drama days of raking the yard as a family, there were the peals of laughter emanating from the tarp full of leaves. I remember a rake sword fight, too, but that memory is a bit blurry.

I suppose what I’m trying to say is that I saw the parallel between the simple task of raking leaves to the street and the larger, wider task of becoming a family. We do things not because they are fun, but because they have to be done. And then in the midst of them, we have some fun and then we have accomplishment. Today, I see the accomplishment of our lifetime together and the promise of the future built on that accomplishment. But more than that, I see that we have fun in it. We have had fun in all of it.

Even when we do our tag-team telling of our cross-country road trip to Portland, emphasizing the drama and the petulance, that we still have fun in the telling of it. It’s a story we have: of fallen timber and a full moon and a child who wouldn’t get out of the car.  It is the story of the gas-station dinner in a town that closed up 5 minutes before we arrived.

We have more stories to share, more memories to make, more holiday meals to ruin and resurrect. But it is nice to be in this moment, when, still sweaty from raking in the November sun, I can see who you were and who you are and it give me glimpses of who you will become–who we will become as we age as a family.

Dear Daughters–I’m so proud of you and so grateful to have you in my life and the lessons I continue to learn from being your mother and from being your father’s partner. I think about how, when I was your ages, I didn’t want to ever marry or have children. As I raked, cursing at the leaves and at my own guilt that propelled me out to help your father, I was overrun with the beauty of our simple, simple life. Is it the life I dreamed of when I was your ages? Not hardly. But that life I dreamed of? It sparkled and shined and had hard edges I would have cut myself on. This life? It is the place of soft landings and gentle (and sometimes not-so-gentle) reminders.

If all I have to show for this life of mine at the end of it is the love I have felt in this life, then I win. I have won. And my dearest, darlingest daughters, that’s the dream I dream for you at the end of it all: a wish that you felt loved and cared for, that you know someone has your back, and that you know when it is time to take up the rake–to have someone else’s back, as it were.

Thank you for the love and for the lessons and for just, generally, being.

All my love,

Mom

The effects of the proximity of brilliance

Grateful.

That’s how I’m feeling tonight as I get ready to sleep. I’m counting my blessings instead of sheep, as the old song goes. And I have many.

Friends who are talented and even if they weren’t, they are kind and lovely and make my life good and beautiful just by their presence.

I have a daughter who came to visit and brought with her the air of knowing how to be a guest, rather than how to impose her will upon the house. And it was lovely to have her home for a few short hours, even though I know I didn’t tell her all the things I need to tell her about life. Maybe that’s a good thing (and another reason for keeping this blog).

I cooked and we all cleaned up the yard, even though all the leaves had not yet fallen, and this evening, I watched a favorite show while un-knitting a hat and washing my laundry. And I rested.

Best of all, though, was getting to watch live music both in a concert venue and at church. I forget how much live music enriches me, grounds me in the rhythm of my soul. It’s always such a surprise when that happens — maybe that’s a result of becoming a middle-aged woman, that you forget what you enjoy and then when it enters your life again, it is a brilliant treat for all the senses. But my friend is also brilliant and brave and I’m grateful to see her step out on stage and perform, and remind me that we all have our own brilliance, our own stage, our own light. And her light shown Saturday night and lit up a bunch of souls.

And this morning at church, I was reminded again, as another friend took to the stage and delivered, and another friend sang directly to my heart.

It was almost too much, I think as I write this, my eyes brimming again with the love of these few days. Or maybe it was just enough of just what I needed. Regardless, it was  …  it just was and I experienced it all.

I’m grateful. In a word. Grateful and thankful and full.

And I wish you all the same–and a good night of sleep.

Ugly Pies

There is a quiche in the oven. Okay, it is more like a breakfast casserole, but it is in the oven at 9:43 on a Saturday morning and it smells …deeee-vine. And in about 10 minutes, I anticipate the smell will creep downstairs and lull our houseguests up for breakfast.  And if not?  Then more for me.

Sure, it isn’t pretty (see picture, above). My food rarely is. But here’s what it’s got in it–are you ready?  (I wish this blog had smell-o-vision for y’all):

The bottom is not a crust, it is made of hash browns that were placed on top of melted butter and crisped up in a 450 degree oven before the filling (topping?) was added.

For the filling: I diced two small sweet potatoes and fried them up in oil until they were softish. I added carrots and let those soften. Added celery and onion and then salt and pepper to taste. Once the onions were clear, I added some cinnamon, nutmeg and sage. I cut up pre-cooked turkey breakfast links and added those in. Then tossed in a diced apple (no skin) and some dried cranberries.

Then I layered that on the crust wrapped it up and put it in the fridge (because I did all this yesterday because, you know, this is not Thanksgiving). So this morning all I had to do was layer some Gouda on top of the topping, then beat up some eggs with salt and pepper and pour that over everything before putting it in a 350 degree oven.

For 30 minutes, it cooked, covered with foil. Then I removed the foil and let it crisp up on top. And now, … I wait. And the smell is killin’ me. Oh!  There went the 1-minute timer!  I’ll be right back!

Just like yesterday, I forgot one other ingredient: I roasted a red pepper and added that to the mix after I cooked the onions and celery.

My mouth is watering and my stomach is growling and I’m wondering if I do, in fact, have to wait for the sleeping 20-somethings to emerge before I taste-test.  I really ought to make sure it is edible, ought-n’t I? It would be the host-like thing to do.

This, my dear friends, is why this isn’t a blog about creating the food, but about enjoying the hits and misses in life. When things turn out ugly to our eyes, it doesn’t mean they are ugly to our other senses. I hope you have time to enjoy something tasty and lively today.  I know I’m about to.

(Did I mention there is cola pulled-pork in the crock pot, too?)

Yummmmm.

 

Becoming My Mother

Earlier this week, I posted the following on Facebook:

You guys, I’m officially an old, old woman. I just heard myself greet a 20-something young woman with “You look spiffy!” I need an intervention!

To my surprise, this is probably the most engaged, non-photo, post I’ve ever had on my Facebook page as people both assured and commiserated with me.

Those words were echoing through my head today as I was working around the house, preparing for a visit from my eldest daughter and her beau. I leaned down to get something off the bottom shelf of the pantry and heard my mother. It was her “bending-over” groan that wheezed out of my lungs. This is not an unfamiliar phenomena, but after “spiffy”, it jarred me a little more.

Even more unsettling, was that as I was putzing in the dining room, I started thinking about changing up dishes in preparation of Thanksgiving dinner, and I heard myself say to my daughter (in my head, of course, because she wasn’t here yet): Now that’s something you can help me with.

I shook my head a little, even heard that little cartoon noise they make when a character shakes something off, because those are not my words. Those are not MY words. Those are the words my mother says to me when I go to visit her. “Here’s something you can help me with,” or “I have a job for you when you get here.”

Those are not my words.

And yet, there they were. In my head, in my mother’s voice, not even mine.

I don’t know anymore if I need an intervention. Because as I danced around the house today running into my mother at every turn, I realized something pretty awesome. If I’m turning into my mother, I must be doing something right.

Yes, I groan when I bend–but at least I can bend. And so can my mom. Heading into her 80th year, my mother is in better shape than I am. She walks, she reads, she does the freaking Sudoku, for frick’s sake.

Maybe I’m a tad young to be calling a young woman “spiffy,” but I’m not too old to laugh at myself (or my mother, for that matter). And that’s another gift my mother has given me–the example of not taking our own selves too seriously.

I could do worse than my mother. But I’m pretty sure I couldn’t do better.  So, here’s to aging … with grace if not gracefully. I can think of one thing worse than aging–not.

Hold the intervention, for now. I’m off to go finish making my daughter dinner.  (If I can get out of this chair!)

The Hunter

Somebody somewhere is missing a rat trap.

This morning, on the patio where our orange tabby usually consumes his kill, I found a few bird feathers and a large, sprung trap. With nothing in it.

I’ve been wondering about this all day long.

We joke about our wandering boy, my husband and I, about how one day we would like to strap a camera to his head before we let him out for the night. I would really have liked to find out where he got the trap and what was in it that compelled him to bring it home.

I know I shouldn’t let him out of the house.  The two female cats aren’t allowed out and other than a couple of sneaky sniffs at the windows, they seem content with that plan. But the male, he yowls by the door until he is allowed out. And then he comes in in the morning, soaking wet, cold and with burrs and bugs dripping from him or matting up his tail.  This morning, before I saw the trap, when he came in to empty the food bowl, I saw a ratty old leaf, stuck tightly in that fluffy tail.

What does he do all night? Where does he go?

I’m sitting here now in my big chair, with one fat female cat by my arm, and the skinny, long-haired girl at my feet. For them, adventure is the little round piece of cardboard that came out of the Mr. Coffee box. The fat one chased it around the kitchen and jumped up and into the air to catch it a couple of times, while the skinny one chased it under the rug by the kitchen door. Sometimes they get into my yarn. But not so much anymore.

But that boy.  Gotta love that boy and his tails of adventure. He has a meow that tells me he has a prize to show me, so I know when not to hold the door wide open, lest he bring it in for show and tell. No, he yowls that special yowl and I know I have to go look, and once I do, he takes the mouse, mole or bird off to the bottom of the steps. His softer yelp lets me know he is ready to come in. And when he does, he sleeps for 12 or 15 hours straight.

But a rat trap?

That’s a new one.

And I’m still a little skeeved out about it.

Selfie Love

I recently spent five days with my mother and my middle sister. Just the three of us, traipsing through northern New Mexico. We were all exhausted our first full day, so we slept in, ate and then took a walk around the resort where my mother had reserved a condo for us. As we were walking, I made them all pose with me for a “selfie,” that turned out quite ridiculous because my mother (bless her pointed little head) kept moving. She is all of 5’2″, I think, and my sister and I both used to stand 5’9″ (though middle age has shortened me considerably). So, when I was holding the camera out to try to take the selfie, I would say, “skooch down” to my sister so that she and I were on the same level as my mother. And sure enough, as soon as I said it, my sweet little mother skooched down, too. So, our first selfies included only parts of my mother’s head.

We got better at it as the week went on. We took at least one a day while we were together and posted them to social media, and I’ve never had so many comments and “likes” in my life. It became kind of a joke, taking those selfies. It seemed fairly ridiculous for a group of old white women to be so enamored with ourselves to be stopping in the middle of wherever to cram together and pose.

But I did it and I made my mom do it, as reluctant as she was at first. She is, by the way, where I learned to hate having the camera trained on me because she is the same way. We don’t like photos of ourselves. And that’s okay. We don’t have to like them, but I’m glad we did this.

It wasn’t just a means of remembering a wonderful time together. It became a sort of spiritual endeavor for me–a method for me to get over my fear of my likeness, especially with how big my likeness is these days.

Something shifted for me during the week, as we goofed for the camera and each other. I learned not just a skill, but an attitude. I’m not sure where it came from, but in the back of my head I kept seeing us pour through photos after my dad’s death, after my mother-in-law’s death, and I remembered that when someone you love is gone, there are no longer any bad photos of them. There may be too few photos, but never a bad one.

I’m healthy. My sister is mostly healthy. My mother is healthiest. And I don’t expect either one of us is going anywhere anytime soon, but I hear the clock and I see our future, and so I insisted on sticking my phone in our faces, because there just aren’t enough photos of the three of us being clowns together. There just aren’t enough photos, enough memories, enough …. there just isn’t enough of the love and acceptance I got that week (not to mention the bed to myself). And I decided to capture what I could and then I did another ridiculous thing: I shared them on Facebook and invited the world in to see us being silly. I returned home and went to an outdoor brewfest with my husband, and decided I needed to do the same thing with him. There just aren’t enough photos of the two of us, looking like we adore each other.

This may seem narcissistic. And it probably is. It is also completely out of my character to plaster my face around. And I’m glad I did it. I’m not perfect–in fact, my face was broken out horribly during that week in New Mexico. (As Tina Fey says, I have the chin of a teenager.) But if I waited to have pictures taken of me until I was perfect, well, there wouldn’t be any, would there?

But I did, like I said, get so many comments both online and in real life because of those silly selfies not because we looked good, but because we looked happy.

And you know what?  We were.

And I’m so very grateful we took the time out to be silly in public and even to share that with our circle.

So much depends …

One of my favorite books that I discovered when my children were in elementary school and I had to work the book fair, is Sharon Creech’s “Love that Dog.” It is a sweet story of how a teacher uses poetry to bring a boy out of grief and teach him to trust his own voice.

I love this book for so many reasons, but the two that stand out to me are:

  • it makes poetry and emotion accessible to children in ways that much of modern life does not currently.
  • it brought me back to the William Carlos Williams poem, The Red Wheelbarrow, which follows in all eight lines:

so much depends
upon

a red wheel
barrow

glazed with rain
water

beside the white
chickens

I remembered reading that poem in college and explicating it, but when I read it in the context of “Love that Dog,” it brought so much more to those 16 words and allowed me to spend much more time writing my own Red Wheelbarrow.

Since rediscovering The Red Wheelbarrow, I will admit, it has become something of a mantra for me. When I am in the depths of my despair, I try to remember all the things that depend upon me. I become the Red Wheelbarrow. My grandmother’s ceramic Christmas Tree becomes the Red Wheelbarrow upon which so much depends. The brownies. The sand-colored hair of a toddler in the park, even that becomes the red wheelbarrow.

So much depends upon …. fill it in because so much does depend on everything you touch in your life–or even the things that just hang out in the yard, in the rain, by the chickens.

I am also reminded of the Jack Pallance character in the movie City Slickers, and his advice to Billy Crystal. The secret is “one thing.” It doesn’t matter what the one thing is, it just matters that there is one thing.  I suppose another way of looking at the red wheelbarrow and Jack Pallance is to consider what is your mission statement for your life? What are the goals you hope to achieve, because if you put all your energy toward the wrong things, you’ll miss it.

I’ve spent an inordinate amount of time lately on the wrong things and they have yet to help me get to that place I call home–the place where I am confident and comfortable and know that I am producing good work and good works. I left the wheelbarrow behind and forgot exactly how much depends on it.

I am so grateful for those 8 lines; 16 words that bring me pause and make me do the best work that I do in any given day: notice. Pay attention. Because when I pause and see what is really right in front of me, I always find I am overtaken by gratitude and humility.

What’s your red wheelbarrow?