Upward

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When you start with a blank page, anything is possible. Blank page, blank sky…

Blank is where I start today, and I move to the daily prompt: clouds. Some days the clouds match my mood; some days not. Some days the clouds can determine my mood; some days not.

Today, there are large, fluffy white clouds spreading across the sky, catching sun and shadows in a wondrous ever-changing pattern of beauty and sunshine and summer and lightness. The past few days, the clouds have been captivating, amazing, breathtaking in their summer glory. Uplifting.

Is it that these clouds only come in the summer time? Or is it that I have only noticed them in the past few days because I have finally slowed down enough to do so? I have slowed down enough to pay attention.

For much of the year, I am closed off and focused inward in an attempt to keep things together and running smoothly. I am maintaining schedules for far too many people. Often in these times, the winter sky is gray and heavy with the possibility of snow and ice and disruption.

In the summer, I can loosen my grip, let go and be free. And looking up is a joy. I can go out into the world and experience the beauty of nature in the clouds that seem to dance from west to east.

Yes, the summer clouds are different. They certainly seem different. By maybe it’s just me.

Good Fence/Bad Fence

As poet Robert Frost writes, “Good fences make good neighbors.” In New England, there is much evidence of good fences in the miles of rock walls that amble over hills and through meadows in their forgotten quest to separate the farms of yesteryear. As I look at these walls, I can see the neighbors, each on his or her side of the wall, walking the line together piling stone on stone after each hard winter.

I, however, would like to argue that good neighbors exist regardless of the state of the fences that separate them.

As the resident of a townhouse, walls are generally all that separate me from my neighbors. Thankfully, my neighbors and I get along. At least I like to think we do….

Take my neighbor with whom I have an adjoining deck. For a long while, we had a lack-of-privacy fence between us. Granted, it was supposed to be a privacy fence, but it failed miserably at that job. In fact, the fence actually rotted and began to fall apart. For two-plus years, there was a large hole—at adult eye level—which allowed us to chat without looking around the fence by leaning on the railing. If I stepped out my door, I would often hear, “Howdy, Neighbor!” and a lengthy conversation would ensue through the hole in the fence.

The new privacy fence, rebuilt earlier this season, has just enough space between the slats to allow for partial view from one deck to the other. There certainly is no true “privacy.” As we often say, it’s good we like each other!

On the other side of our house, our former neighbors had two little girls. While our decks were not joined, we did have a more effective privacy fence separating us. But that didn’t stop the girls. If they heard us on our deck eating dinner, they would lean over the railing and engage us in entertaining conversation. It usually started something like this:

“Are you eating dinner?” one would ask. And when we replied with the affirmative, the conversation would continue. “What are you eating? Are you almost done? I have sand in my shoes from the sandbox. Wanna see it?” On a crazier night, one might announce from just behind the fence, “I’m naked. Is that embarrassing you?”

Perhaps it’s true that good fences make good neighbors. But bad fences make better neighbors. Honestly, who needs fences anyway? I suppose I might need a good fence if I had bad neighbors.

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[Image is a photo of our privacy fence, stealthily snapped out my back door so my neighbors wouldn’t think I was creepily stalking them. Clearly, “privacy” is not the strong point of this fence.]

The Door

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My son stood in front of the open refrigerator, door wide open, staring at the contents. The light spilled out onto the floor, where it turned the tile a brighter shade of white. The cold air cascaded from the opening in a mist of fog that quickly dissipated in the summer heat. My son was transfixed, as if waiting—I suppose—for something appealing to suddenly materialize on the shelf in front of him.

“Close the refrigerator!” I scolded. “Figure out what you want before you open the door. Don’t browse.” I have yet to figure out why I have to say this so often….

He closed the door. “There’s nothing to eat in this house.”

I don’t know how that can be. Before I went to the grocery store yesterday, I asked him if there was anything he wanted me to get. All he said was sub rolls. I got the sub rolls, so he really has nothing to complain about.

But that is neither here nor there. I’d rather take a step back and examine the habit of standing in front of the open refrigerator door.

From the kid perspective, I can understand the disappointment of opening to fridge with the expectation of something great only to find nothing that you want to eat. I can almost understand the need to wait and hope for something appetizing to appear. Because really, if you stand there long enough, staring at the available options, something may eventually inspire the palate, right? A combination that wasn’t previously realized might become evident. Something worth eating must be contained in the refrigerator somewhere, mustn’t it? Search long and search hard, and eventually you will find it.

From the parent perspective, particularly the single parent perspective, I see the cost of standing in front of the open fridge—the energy wasted. I see the food that was purchased only yesterday being cast aside as inedible simply because the teen might have been eating that food last week (with great fondness), but the same teen doesn’t care for that particular food item this week–and won’t care for it until well after it spoils.

Yes, there are two perspectives to this problem, both justified, and I am in search of the win-win solution. The solution would be a refrigerator in which amazingly appealing food will appear, as if by magic, when you open it. That would solve this problem once and for all. And it might solve another problem or two, as well….

“What’s for dinner, Mom?”

“I don’t know. Open the refrigerator and see.”

Monsters

There is a monster under my bed. Really. A monster.

Remember when you used to think there was something under your bed? You used to be afraid to get out of bed (or maybe you still are) because you felt that something might grab your ankles as your feet touched the floor? Perhaps this is an unreasonable fear from childhood that has carried over into adulthood.

And you can’t get rid of it. No matter how hard you try.

In the middle of the night, when all is dark and quiet and your mind is racing from some crazy dream you had, you think about getting up to use the facilities, and you can feel that hand closing around your ankle.

Rather than venture the few steps to the bathroom, you snuggle more deeply under the covers, avoiding the inevitable confrontation with the monster.

This morning, I awoke to find that my normal nighttime companion had been abducted by the monster under my bed. I am deeply thankful that I didn’t have to get up in the middle of the night, as the monster might have chosen me instead of my much lighter companion. The evidence left behind by the monster was more than obvious, and I have recognized that this is a warning for the future.

There is a monster under my bed, and I (now) have evidence to prove it!

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Summer

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Today was the official last day of school, though only one of my children actually had to attend school. The high school finished up last week, with today set aside for students who needed to take make-up exams. The middle school—and lower grade students—had a half-day of school today. The last day.

When my son came home from school at 11:40 this morning, my daughter looked at him, confused. “Where did you go today?” she asked him.

He looked at her, a steady, blink-less stare, as if to say, Really? But he turned and walked away without saying a word.

Today is the first official day of summer, and my house is full of teenagers. A pile of shoes greets anyone who dares to enter the house. I think my boyfriend and I—both seasoned educators of teens—are the only ones who dare. The parents who arrived for drop-off and pick up waved tentatively from their cars.

Giggling, laughing, screaming, some piano playing, a bit of singing, chatting, and a lot of texting were the activities of the day. Swimming, pizza, and more laughing and giggling were sprinkled in for good measure.

Because I reside in a townhouse and share walls with others, I warned my neighbors of my houseful of teenagers. They didn’t seem to mind. Then again, it is only the first official day of summer….

Meanwhile, I sit at my kitchen table trying to complete the day’s work. Over the years, I have learned to navigate the noise and commotion of children in the house while I work. Because in the summer, I work from home. My crazy home.

Over the years, little has changed. Friends have come and gone. Voices have grown deeper and the shoes… they have grown bigger.

It’s officially summer. Welcome to my crazy home. Hopefully, the pile of shoes at the door won’t scare you.

 

Daily prompt: summer

Necessities

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In the living room, my son is trying to convince my daughter that some colleges don’t provide toilet paper. I’m not completely sure, but she doesn’t seem to be buying his story.

He and I had this discussion while she was in the shower. It started like this: he decided it would be good to add paper towels to his college packing list. That naturally devolved to the need to bring toilet paper, as well.

“I think you’ll find the school will provide that,” I stated, amused at the ludicrous thought that such a necessity would be overlooked.

“I hear some colleges don’t provide it,” he pushed the issue, spinning this new story as he spoke.

“Really?” I asked, recognizing he was going to make up something. “Like what school doesn’t?”

He threw out the name of an institution that one of his friends will be attending. Since his friend recently returned from his orientation, he would know first-hand if the school didn’t provide such a thing. It was a plausible story, but my son was joking, and I knew it.

“Can you imagine paying all that money for college and having to provide your own toilet paper?” I snickered. “That would just be ridiculous!”

Not to mention how that might work in a shared dormitory bathroom….

Yes, we have some crazy conversations in our house. And yes, I end up thinking about things I most likely would not otherwise consider. Sometimes, that would be a good thing.

Blooming

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At my son’s high school graduation, each of the graduates was given a white rose before the ceremony began. Each student—all 300-something—walked in carrying his or her rose, though it seemed instruction as to the best way to carry that item in a procession was missing. It was, however, a nice touch.

After a two-hour ceremony in weather that alternated between cool, hot (for about 5 minutes), and windy, the rose that was handed to me by my graduate was limp and wilted. It seemed as though it might not be salvageable, especially after we spent another half hour or more taking pictures and further ignoring it. I had a vague thought that if I put it in water, the bud would continue to droop on a stem grown weak from mistreatment.

But I am a sucker for beauty and for living (and once-living) things. So when I arrived home, I gave the rose a bit of TLC. I clipped the bottom of the stem, stuck it in a vase of water, and placed it in the center of my kitchen table. In the next hour, it began to take on new life. First, it grew a bit less droopy. The petals stuck out in awkward directions as the bud began to right itself while it took in nourishment. It wasn’t long before the bud seemed much happier.

I left the house for a while to attend a graduation party, and when I returned, there were bits of torn leaves littering the table around the base of the vase. “Which one of you has been eating the leaves off the rose?” I scolded the cats. “Knock it off!” I moved the vase to the kitchen counter because I am delusional enough to believe my cats do not frequent the counter tops.

In the middle of the night, I was awakened by a thunk and an additional strange noise and then nothing. I fell back to sleep and quickly forgot about the disturbance. When I went downstairs in the morning, the vase lay on its side on the counter, and the rose was on the floor beneath, lying in a puddle of water.

Sighing, I clipped a smidge more off the stem, and once again placed it in the water. This time, I snipped off the leaves since that was the part the cats found most appetizing.

Since then, my son’s rose has bloomed beautifully, even growing shoots with fresh new leaves where the old ones had been snipped off the stem. This rose has become a fitting symbol for the life to come for my graduate. Sometimes, things don’t go smoothly. We may be weakened by the experiences we withstand. We may face adversity. We may be torn down by those around us. But through it all, we learn that we are stronger than we might have thought. We learn to gain strength from our trials. We learn that growing in new directions is always a possibility. And we learn how to let our inner beauty shine through it all.

Graduation Gift

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I’m stumped on a graduation gift for my son. It seems he has everything he needs right now. And the things he doesn’t have, I can’t afford. Actually, I can’t afford much at the moment, so it’s good he has what he needs.

I put this issue in the hands of my fourteen-year-old as we walked around the mall Wednesday on a mission to return a purchase. We were browsing the electronics store and the game store, and I thought maybe he would spot something worthy of a graduation gift for his brother.

As we strolled, W suddenly veered into the mall chocolate shop. “I think I found a graduation gift,” he said, as he walked toward the display of colorfully wrapped truffles. The display was full and nearly spilling over. There was a sign that boasted the current “deal” on a bag of these sweet chocolaty treats.

“We can get him a bag of 50 truffles,” W told me, pointing to the sign. I read the line to which he was pointing, and I read it a second time. I cocked my head slightly, perplexed by the discrepancy between what I was seeing and what he was saying. I read the line above W’s finger, and the line below.

“That says there is a deal on a bag of 75 truffles,” I told him. “Where do you see ’50 truffles’?”

“Well, I don’t,” W admitted. “But by the time we give it to him, it will be a bag of 50!”

Ah, always thinking, that kid—50 truffles for the graduate, 25 for the little brother. What a perfect graduation gift!

Cookies

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I picked up my son from the eighth grade class trip (very) late on Friday night (technically, the wee hours of Saturday morning). On the drive home, there was a tired, train-of-thought conversation that involved discussion of the things my deep thinker had been churning in his mind on the 12-hour bus ride home.

“You know, the Capitol dome was constructed of cast iron,” he told me. “In the 1850s and 60s,” he added. “That must have been quite a feat of engineering.” He stared out the window as the darkness passed by while he thought. “I wonder how they had the technology to get that up there back then.”

Nearly nine million pounds of ironwork, I have learned. My son thinks about the process of construction: how they created this immense structure. How they managed to move it to the top of the Capitol building. Meanwhile, my mother-mind wonders about the safety of the building on which that weight is resting and the lives of the people within that building. That’s a lot of weight for the walls and foundation to hold.

“And you know,” he continued, breaking me our of my reverie and revealing the randomness of his reflection. “The National Archives are much harder to get into than Nicolas Cage makes it seem.” I chuckled as my mind drifted to thoughts of the movie, National Treasure.

“Of course,” I told him. “That’s Hollywood. They had to make it possible, or the story line wouldn’t have worked.”

“Yeah,” he agreed. “I just wanted to point that out. It’s really hard to get in there.”

“I’m sure it is. Think about what’s in there.” I paused to see if he had anything else to add. The silence stretched until I asked, ”Did you finish all the cookies I sent?”

“Oh, I finished those a long time ago… on the bus ride down on Tuesday.”

“Did you share them?”

“I tried.”

“What do you mean, ‘you tried’?” I asked.

“Nobody wanted any,” he stated, as if teenagers don’t get hungry.

I puzzled over this one for a minute. Eighth grade boys and homemade cookies. This didn’t seem right to me. “No one wanted any? Did you offer them one?”

“Well,” he hedged. “I probably could have done better with that.”

“You didn’t offer one to anyone, did you?”

“Yes, I did.” he said.

“And….”

“Well, when I offered one to Jon, he was wearing ear buds.” He paused here before he said, “He didn’t answer.”

“So you ate them all?”

Even in the darkness of the car, I could see the smirk on his face.

Welcome Home…

Below is the first journal piece I wrote in my friend Kate’s amazing Soul Reclamation workshop over the weekend. I was not able to give the exercises of the workshop my full focus because of the demands of my job, so I will be working through some of them over the next couple of weeks.

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How long has it been since you’ve been here? Truly been present in this place? Too long ago, I saw you here, lingering just outside the bounds of your self. Lingering longingly, like you had a sense you still belong here.

We’ve missed you. Welcome home. It’s been a long road, and I am hoping you can stay for a while. I know what you’re going to say… life, and all that. That’s always the first excuse. But you need some time to hang out here. To reconnect and get to know us again. To be present with us.

This is a journey, and I will grant myself permission to reconnect with myself, my life, my soul. There is so much that pulls me away on a daily basis. So much that grabs my attention and sucks me out in all different directions so I can’t possibly focus and center and find my wholeness.

This journey, this workshop is about reconnection. It is about finding myself, becoming whole once again, and granting myself the time to recognize that I need attention. I cannot continue to put all of myself, my attention into outside forces if I do not focus some attention on me, on the inside, on the person who makes it happen.

So grab a pen and take a seat. Linger awhile and do the work you need to do.

Welcome home. We’ve missed you.