Friday, November 30, 2012

Day 30 of Gratitude: Back from Vacation


I'm just back from vacation today, after being with the family in Mexico for a 10 day vacation over Thanksgiving.  As it's the final day of my 30 Days of Gratitude blog series, it's fitting to say today that I am grateful to be able to travel and take a lovely vacation in the sunshine.


And now on to the Christmas season!

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Day 28 of Gratitude: My Kids


I'm almost done with this month of Gratitude Reflections, and it would be wrong to end without talking about my children.

There has been a bit of conversation in the last few years about studies that show that having kids decreases happiness for the parents.  But then there are new studies that critique the old studies, and you can read more about that question here on Jezebel.

So, am I glad I had kids because they make me happier?  I like Gretchen Rubin's observation that having kids isn't happier on a day-to-day, moment-to-moment level, but that it is part of how she "feels right".

My children were dearly wished for.  And yet, they are not what I imagined they would be.  Who was it that said that in order to love the child you actually have that you will need to mourn and grieve for the imaginary child you carried around in your head for 9 months?  (I think it was Mr. Rogers.)  Well, for me that is true.  They are not my creations, not my imaginings, not what I expected.

And they're perfect just the way they are.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Day 26 of Gratitude: the life of the mind


This month of gratitude thing has actually been challenging to me - and possibly boring to my one or two readers - as it has started to feel like I'm bragging/repeating myself/not saying anything interesting.

But I'll finish it out, anyway.  Today, I pause to tell the world how grateful I am for the life of the mind.  My maternal grandparents were life-long learners, and modeled an engaging and inspiring life of the mind.  They subscribed to interesting magazines, read difficult books, took educational trips, and patronized and played classical music.

I knew I wanted to be like that.  I watched my mother also pursue her own life of the mind, and I am happy to think it's something I'm passing on to the next generation.

There is always something more to learn, and for that I am grateful.  Life will never get boring as long as I'm still able to engage with it in this way.

(For the record, and for full-disclosure, Carbon does not make a habit of reading Scientific American.  I had told him about an article I thought he would find interesting, and he was just trying to read that article.  In the end, I read it out loud to him.)

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Gratitude Day 24: Skipping Black Friday


We spent Black Friday at the zoo, where this duckling tried to bond with Hypatia and follow her out of the avian area.

I'm very grateful to feel no urgency about my Christmas shopping.  My extended family does a Secret Santa gift exchange, so we all only need to get one gift.  My in-law's are a smaller family and are pretty laid back about gift giving also.  And my immediate family will only be exchanging small, mostly homemade gifts, and expecting Santa to come just to fill the stockings with some small things.

Our usual routine is to pick a shopping day and to make a day of it in our small downtown shopping area, for festive fun.  No real crowds, no parking lots, no lines to speak of, and no cranky mall employees.

I love the Christmas season, and am grateful to start it the same way I want to end it: with family and togetherness and hopes for a peaceful, better world.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Day 23 of Gratitude: Food


We spent Thanksgiving here with my in-laws, for a very different food-culture for Thanksgiving.  It was a bit of a sad thing for me, because we have always been with my family for this holiday before.

More than in any other area of life, I notice the family-tradition that goes with our Food Culture.  It is about where you live, yes, but it is also about where your family has come from.  Here, we ate a local feast, but still brought along our can of cranberry sauce and made a pumpkin pie.

Food and Family.  Happy Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Day 21 of Gratitude: Flexible Work


I have a great job.  What you do for work is going to take up a huge part of your life, and although this is a pragmatic transaction (your time in exchange for the money you need to live) people almost all agree that a happier life results from finding work that you love - work you want to do even if you weren't being paid for it.

As a Director of Religious Education, working full-time, I have quipped that I have the reverse of what many working people I know have: They have 5 or 6 days a week of rigid work and 1 day to figure out how to get everything else done, while I have 1 day a week of rigid work and 6 days a week to do everything else and get ready for that one day.  It's a pretty sweet deal.

Don't get me wrong - flexible work does not mean No Work.  A flex day is not a day off.  And sometimes flexible goes both ways - most of my meetings have to be in the evenings and that means less time with my husband, I work weekends and that means no normal weekends with my husband, I get random work calls on my cell phone at any old hour, and I find it hard to go out for coffee by myself without running into someone for church who would like me to sit down and talk with them for a bit ... sometimes for impromptu pastoral care sessions.

When I go on errands, they are usually mixed, with a list for church and a personal list.  I'll separate my purchases at the check out line and saying "I need to use two different charge cards today" rolls off my tongue on a regular basis.  My family is used to the line "I just need to run into church for a little bit ... I'll try to be back soon".  And of course holidays have no real meaning for a religious professional, and I'll never get to enjoy a 3-day weekend with the rest of the world.

But ... if you can take your work to the beach with you, how cool is that?  I love 85% of my work, and would do it even if it wasn't my job.  (I'm giving it 15% for attending boring or unpleasant meetings, which not all meetings are, cleaning up after others, moving heavy furniture around at church, and the other less-fun but necessary tasks).  And I get to read or write or plan while watching my kids play on the beach, or at the park.  And, yes, I've also brought my work to less fun places, like dentist or hospital waiting rooms - but that is also a blessing to be able to do.

I am very grateful for this flexible work.  There is a lot to be said for a change in work culture that requires a bit less "face time" in the office and transitions us to a focus on productivity rather than time-spent working.  If you can get it done on the beach, why the heck not?

(Caveat - I do see some necessity for face-time for work teams, and it is nice to be able to pop down the hall and ask a co-worker their opinion real quick.  But overall I still think a lot of professions and groups could have less face-time and more flex-time if we had a small culture shift and worried more about product and less about controlling people.)

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Day 16 and 17 of Gratitude: Libraries


I'm a day behind on my 30 days of gratitude, but I love Public Libraries so much that I think I can give them two days worth of my gratitude. :)

Without libraries what have we? We have no past and no future.
Ray Bradbury 

I have always loved libraries.  As a child, my mother would take us to the library and we'd haul out a radio flyer wagon full of books to take home.  We always had as many books out as we could, and although we ended up paying a lot in overdue fines because of having too many books out to manage properly (a problem I still have - the bane of homeschoolers, autodidacts, and avid readers alike), but I think paying fines to libraries is only right and just.

Libraries are the one American institution you shouldn't rip off.
Barbara Kingsolver 

What do I get from the library?  Books, of course.  Audiobooks, as well.  Music CD's, sometimes.  Children's DVD's.  Bilingual books that we use to try and learn spanish.  But we also get children's story hour and other educational events, author talks, meeting rooms available for community groups, internet access, printers, reference librarians, children's librarians, summer reading programs, and more.

People can lose their lives in libraries. They ought to be warned.
Saul Bellow 

The kids and I go the library at least once a week, and habitually have out about 150 items (our limit with three cards).  I end up paying between $5-$20 a month in fines, but the service we receive is priceless.  

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Day 15 of Gratitude: the town we live in



A new building for the local Children's Museum just opened this week - and it is amazing.  The kids love it.

Today I'm grateful for the town we live in.  It has so many wonderful amenities like museums, performance art centers, art galleries, bookstores, public transit, and parks, a great local culture with lots of artists and cool people, a good Farmer's Market, and yet it isn't too big and the traffic and crime are pretty low.  It's also the sort of town where you can get from downtown to a small farm in 15 minutes of driving.

I grew up Seattle, and by the time I was leaving I was so sick of the traffic.  I love our little slice of rural life, but there are also some things that I will always want somewhat near me: a UU church, a place to see live performance, access to local shops and not just big box stores, a public library, good restaurants and coffee shops, and a fabric store.  I could live without them, and I would if I had to, but I am glad to not have to give them up.  This town is a wonderful balance for me.

Urban, suburban, and rural are the only categories we talk about anymore.  Technically, we're suburban.  But what happened to the category of "Town"?  I love my town/small city.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Day 14 of Gratitude: Head, Hearts, and Hands


Today I am grateful for a varied work life that keeps our whole selves busy and active.  I think of this sometimes when I am planning our To Do Lists or packing for a time away from home:

What is our Head Work right now?  What are we learning, reading, thinking about?

What is our Heart Work right now?  What is calling us to care for others, feel beauty, express ourselves?

What is our Hand Work right now?  What are we making, doing, and building?

(And then there is also Body Work, which is running, playing, jumping, etc - but that doesn't fit into my "H - Work" alliteration theme.)

I know many people - adults and children - end up in routines that specialize in one of those types of work, but I personally feel out of balance whenever I'm too much in Head, Heart, Hands, or Body.  My job, home, and our homeschooling are so wonderful because they all allow for a balanced approach to the types of work in our lives.

Today I spent time comforting a sick child, driving to and from a meeting about 70 miles away from home, meeting with colleagues for mutual support, giving a presentation to colleagues about systems theory and a specific book we had read together (How Your Church Family Works - great book), ruminating on a passing comment that caused me some anxiety and self-reflection, meeting with the youth advisors in my congregation for a check-in and planning meeting, reading another study book (Congregational Leadership in Anxious Times), supervising a child with Spanish and math schoolwork, watching a nature documentary with a sick child, washing dishes, folding and hanging laundry, cooking dinner, knitting a hat, emailing, playing Words with Friends, watching Dexter with my husband, reading blog posts, ranting to my husband about said blog posts, writing thank you notes, and tidying up and sweeping in my home.

With a life as varied and rich as that, no part of me has a chance to atrophy or get out of balance.  I am very grateful for the sheer variety life provides.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Day 13 of Gratitude: Dance

Tonight the family got to see Le Ballet Jazz de Montreal.  Despite the challenges of taking two young children to adult art, it was so worth it - especially the second half where they performed this piece "Harry".  Very interesting and accessible.

Ballet was a huge part of my young life.  Much as the song from Chorus Line says "Everything is beautiful at the ballet ... whenever you lift your arms someone is there ...".

I dreamed of being a ballerina.  I attended the best local dance school (a national level ballet school) from the age of 9 to the age of 16, with private lessons and intense dedication.

It didn't work out for me ... I am not built for it and no matter how hard you try (and I tried - anorexia and torn muscles and deformed feet to show for it) in the end I found it impossible to defeat my own physiology.  Spirit didn't beat out biology.

That hurt.  It was the greatest heartbreak of my young life - it far outweighed any sort of romantic heartbreak I could have experienced.  Giving up on ballet was giving up on my dream ... in a way it felt like giving up on myself.

For years I couldn't appreciate dance as an audience member, because it still hurt too much.  Now though, I can see the beauty again.  I can appreciate how marvelous the skill and dedication (and lucky physiology) of the dancers truly is, and I am glad to be able to appreciate the dance.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Gratitude Days 11 and 12: Veterans Day

hypatia and noel in gardens
(My husband and daughter, a couple years after he returned from Iraq.  She was our post-deployment baby, and I remember on this day as I watched them both walking ahead of me that I was pierced with gladness that he had come home and that she had been born.)

Today I am grateful for all who have served.  I believe in service, and I my time served in the National Guard was an important part of my life.  I met so many people that I never would have known if I hadn't taken time before college to attend Army training.  I'm extremely grateful for the experiences I had, the training I received, and the opportunity to serve my community in times of fire, flood, and riot.

I am also grateful today for my husband's safe return from his time serving in Iraq.  We met in the National Guard, but my time in was peacetime.  His luck was different, and his year of combat was something we never expected.  I am so proud of him for self-lessly and stoically honoring his commitments, and I am so grateful that he was one of the lucky ones to return relatively unscathed.

War is never a good thing.  I wish our leaders the wisdom and will to always work for peaceful solutions.  But for those who fight, it is different.  They serve, with the very safety of their bodies, hearts, and souls on the line.  Thank you to all who have sacrificed and served.

A few quotes I like from this article:

"The more we sweat in peace the less we bleed in war." -Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit

"In war, there are no unwounded soldiers." -Jose Narosky
"We often take for granted the very things that most deserve our gratitude." -Cynthia Ozick

"How important it is for us to recognize and celebrate our heroes and she-roes!" -Maya Angelou
"When our perils are past, shall our gratitude sleep?" -George Canning
"Courage is almost a contradiction in terms. It means a strong desire to live taking the form of readiness to die." -G.K. Chesterton
"As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them." -John Fitzgerald Kennedy

"I dream of giving birth to a child who will ask, 'Mother, what was war?'" -Eve Merriam

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Day 10 of Gratitude: Home


I am so amazingly in love with this place that we found to call home.  Instead of talking wistfully of "someday" when we have "a few acres", now we actually have them and we're just busy enjoying and taking care of them.


I've been reading Making Home by Sharon Astyk (one of those rare books that I enjoyed so much from the library that I bought a new copy) and it has inspired me to appreciate and love my home even more.  It's also inspired me to want to do even better, to settle, to be a better steward, to plan for the future in responsible ways.


One immediate change I'm making is to break my dependence on the dryer.  If I have a "laundry day" once a week, the only way to get all the laundry done is to use the dryer.  But dryers use a lot of unnecessary electricity, when the same job could be done by passive energy and a sunny corner of my living room.  So I'm not doing the laundry once a week anymore, and am drying everything on my wooden drying rack.  That means I need to do laundry three or four times a week, and have a better system of storing dirty laundry as it waits its turn.  But I've made the changes, and everyone still has clean laundry as they need it, and our dryer now just sits empty.

I am very grateful to have a home, to have the resources that give me the freedom to make choices in how I want to live, and to have found this corner of the world to settle down on.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Day 9 of Gratitude: My Husband


Today is my 10th Anniversary of being Handfasted to my dear Husband.  We were handfasted in a lovely pagan and not-legally binding ceremony held at the Supreme Court House of our State (with the Chief Justice coming in to unlock the building and be there for us, but the officiant being a family friend and member of my mother's Full Moon Circle).  A few months later, we would be pushed to make the union legal because of my husband's impending deployment to Iraq, but the date we care about is the day we stood before friends and family and bound ourselves to each other with vows and symbolic cords, then jumped over a broom together.

We were young (I was only 23) and we jumped into it all very fast.  But we had been living together for a year, had decided to have a baby as I faced endometriosis and felt my fertility to be a ticking time bomb of scar tissue and troubles, had been strengthened/tested through the experience of miscarrying our first pregnancy, had bought a house, and were again 4 months pregnant by the time we took those vows to each other.

And since then those vows have been tested again and again: babies, deployments and war, graduate school, bouts with depression for both of us, escalating debt and money troubles, home daycare, illness, our bodies aging, stressful jobs, long hours and commutes, family members moving in with us, personal growth that doesn't always go in the same direction for both of us, snoring, different "love languages", my tendency to throw hissy-fits, and all the times I've had to pick up his dirty socks from all over the house.

But a commitment doesn't happen just once.  It's made over and over again, day to day, moment to moment.  It's a choice, and we make it.  Sometimes it's a hard choice, when I'm so mad I could spit fire.  And sometimes I marvel at his choice and how he can be so amazingly patient and supportive of me.

Did I find Prince Charming?  No, of course not.  But I've been plenty lucky, to find a good man to walk by my side for these years.

Once the realization is accepted
that even between the closest human beings 
Infinite distances continue to exist
A wonderful living side by side can grow up
If they succeed in loving the distance between them
Which makes it possible for each to see the other
Whole and against a wide sky.

-- Rainer Maria Rilke

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Day 8 of 30 Days of Gratitude: Bulbs


Today I am reflecting on how grateful I feel for the amazing property of bulbs to be planted in the ground in this time when everything else is dying, and that they will be growing away and seem to just appear by magic in the spring.  When the rest of the garden is a dreary place, there is something so comforting to be pushing the garlic cloves into their new bed.


They have been planted and tucked into bed for the winter, and now we can look forward to lovely garlic scapes and garlic bulbs next year.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Day 7 of Gratitude


(History Lapbooks)

Today I am feeling grateful for the place we are finding ourselves in with our homeschooling right now.  Although I know this won't last forever, I am very grateful that these days it feels easy, that we have the right pace and routine down, that the kids are (mostly) doing all things they are interested in and are excited about learning, and that we have found resources that are working.  It feels like we have a good balance of time with other kids, time alone, structured time, flexible time, and time to just Be.

When it's working like this, it feels so great.


Tuesday, November 6, 2012

30 Days of Gratitude: Days 4-6


No post from me yesterday, as I observed a new Sabbath practice of no driving, no internet, no shopping.

But now on with my 30 Days of Gratitude:

4.  I am grateful for this sign that I found taped to a closet door on Sunday as I prepped for classes.  I don't know who put it there, but it was a message I appreciated.
5.  After his motorcycle broke down on the freeway on the way home from work last night, I am very grateful that my husband managed to get off the freeway safely and to push his motorcycle for 1 1/2 miles to the hospital parking lot.  A very unfortunate event, but thank goodness he didn't get hurt in the process.
6.  And tonight, I'm grateful for the Election Results!

Saturday, November 3, 2012

30 Days of Gratitude


As much as I am able, I want to observe the 30 Days of Gratitude this month.  As spiritual practices go, gratitude seems so easy - and yet I don't make time to practice it nearly enough.  So far I note that I am grateful for:

1.  The beautiful fall leaves.

2.  Being warm and safe and having enough food and water ... not to be taken for granted.

3.  My dear generous children, who have pooled all the money they had to adopt a penguin from the World Wildlife Fund, and when they discovered they had read the catalog wrong and only had enough money to receive a picture and certificate in the mail, but not the stuffed animal, took that in stride and still want to send in all their money.

What are you grateful for?

Thursday, November 1, 2012

The Day of the Dead

Today is Dia de los Muertos, or The Day of the Dead.  It is a primarily Mexican holiday, in which people remember their loved ones who have died by cleaning their graves, bringing food and drink and flowers, and having what seems like a party.

Our congregation has marked the Day of the Dead with an intergenerational worship service on the Sunday before for as long as I have been here.  Originally, a member who grew up in Mexico began the practice, but after a few years she passed the leadership of the service on to the worship arts committee, and I have been involved in this service ever since I became the Director of Religious Education here.

A few things really jumped out at me last Sunday as I sat in the service.

When people are called to come forward and place mementos on the altar, almost everyone does.  Everyone is touched by death.

The pain of loss may lessen with time, but it's still there.  Some people are in tears for a loss that happened many, many years ago.  A twin sibling that died in childhood.  A baby stillborn.  A child or young person.  A spouse tragically killed too young.  Or other losses that surprise me that they are still so raw: parent, grandparent, aunt.  We will always mourn.

I know that some people avoid this service every year.  Not that many people bring their children.  But for many, this service is important.  They come to cry.  They come to see their tears as part of a larger picture of the cycles of life and the larger life of the community.  To truly engage with life means to truly engage with death.

Over the years my "list" has grown.  At first I was just placing a memento for my lost pregnancy (and no matter what some may say, that was a "real baby", and I still mourn it), then for my grandfather.  This year it was my unnamed little peanut, my grandfather, and my other grandparents.  More life also means more loss.  

It is real, it is unavoidable, it is part of the experience of living.  

It is the ultimate Great Mystery, the Final Frontier.

We live In Between (as our reading on Sunday by Richard Gilbert says).

Or, in the words of Tim McGraw, "I hope you get the chance to live like you are dying".