Tuesday, January 25, 2022

Storm before calm

I had no sooner locked the door as their parents went out for the evening when I heard this wild clack-clack-clack and raucous laughter. There was Frog (age 3) pulling some sort of crazy wood toy - wait, is that a toy centipede? - running full speed from the living room down the hall towards the bedrooms. Every unexpected, big, surprise motion makes little sister Bird (age 1) laugh merrily, and with abandon. Which, of course, means the antecedent action must be repeated by big sister. This time, the action was wild, reckless running. Over and over. Yes, we were off! This would not be a lazy evening of reading books on the couch before bed, but something else indeed...

Frog raced the clacking centipede down the hall, with newly-walking Bird - who, seemingly overnight, has gone from crawling to running - chasing after her. Quickly, quickly, quickly raced big sister. After, after, after came little sister. Both children running, scooting, laughing, all the way from the living room past the dining room table down the hallway to the bedrooms, where all the doors were closed. A full immediate crashing stop ensued, followed by a bustling wrestling nestling heap and more raucous laughter. This might not end well, I thought, and immediately shifted into one of those strange experiences of time where I am in many places at once - totally present and right there in the room yet simultaneously lost in thought, past present future, future present past -

oh my, future - 
These two girls are actually playing together. This is the first time I have seen this, I think. I just know they are going to be great friends, yes, always and forever.

oh my, present - 
I am going to be right here next to them, keeping a close eye, even if I have to run alongside the two of them for every single step. I must help these bodies to stay safe, ensure that they give each other space. These are exactly the kind of silly antics that end with surprise hurt and I don't want that on my watch.

oh my, past - 
Remember my own boys? Those evening frolics? Why is it that roughhousing dovetails with bedtime? All the more so during the winter, I think, when we don't get as much time outdoors, using our full body. We always called this the last storm before the calm...remember how quickly the emotions can switch from laughter to tears?

oh my, past past - 
Remember when my younger brother cut his head on the cabinet at the end of the hall? He and I were running just like this! We were both so young...

This game of chase was not an activity I would have chosen for these two youngsters to play, but to 'squash' the idea would still leave me with lots of unused, unreleased, uncertain, whirling, swirling energy. How to get their minds on something else, quickly? I made the game-time decision to go along with the fun while doing my utmost to set safe parameters. In the end, no one got hurt - which felt amazing! How many times did my granddaughters and I run down the hallway, back and forth, with that silly wood centipede and Frog leading the charge? I don't know! There were so many funny squeals. Both girls showed good balance and control, recovering from stumbles without falling onto the floor. No one got squeezed in an unexpected 'pile on' of bodies, arms, legs. I got silly with them, running alongside with loud percussive 'bum bum bum' footsteps, making them both laugh. 

I knew the game was winding down when Bird switched into a crawling position and hustled down the hallway in her old preferred way. Everyone was tired. All this exuberant exercise led to an easy bedtime routine...and, hopefully, sweet dreams by all.

I sure hope this chase game isn't something that becomes a regular thing, especially when I am the babysitter. I will admit though - we all had good fun together.


It's Tuesday and I am participating in the
 Slice of Life.  
Thank you, Two Writing Teachers, for creating this supportive community 
of teacher-writers!

Tuesday, January 11, 2022

Altered fun

Something that is bringing me a lot of light this winter is a new 'found' project.  Let me share what I am up to....

I have two old journal/day planners of my mother's that she never really used. She was not a journaler, and I am not sure how she happened to have these two, very nice quality/Italian made, with sewn binding. Mom died a few years back, so it's not like I can ask her. Perhaps they were "new year's resolution" purchases, something she thought she'd have a go at? These books are from 1992 and 1993, soon after Dad had retired from the Navy and they had moved near the beach, in South Carolina.

It took a little courage on my part to open them up and read through these. I was not surprised yet still disappointed to find that there were very few entries, and everything was quite superficial - "haircut at 10 am." The biggest confidences seemed to involve food, "We went out to eat and I had scallops for dinner." Truly, there were very few references to any family members, except for noting phone calls, as in "I called Maureen this evening."

Later, when I was out running trails with my pal Marla, I lamented aloud - "How I wish I found some sort of affirming words about me in her writing. I'm half-thinking of writing a love note to myself in the empty pages." (This was one of those 'give yourself what you need' ideas that a therapist might recommend.) Marla, an artist, immediately suggested - "Oh my - you should make an altered book!"

"A what?" I asked, confused.

When I got home from the run, I went on a deep dive (thank you, Google and YouTube) to discover everything I could about altered books...and this has become my 'found' project. This visual art/craft approach appears for some to be a way to create almost an artist's portfolio, or to experiment with different art techniques. I am taking mine in a more personal direction, using Mom's book/writings (or lack of writing) as a muse, creating art collages and drawings, basically 'playing' with the book. 

Let me show you a collage I have just started - this is going to be a map of their home and surrounding area, showing all Mom's favorite places. I have created the 'toe' of the island that they lived on and the water all around, using papers cut from picture book jackets. 

(I should ask you teachers - do you recognize the illustrators?). 

(Okay, okay - I'll share! The 'land' is from Jerry Pinkney's The Lion and The Mouse and the "water" is from Michaela Goede's illustrations in Carole Lindstrom's We Are Water Protectors)  

As I said, I'm mid-process on this collage - I have yet to add roads, bike paths, and favorite places. More to come!!

I am awed by how this work is stimulating other writing, leading to poetry and some fanciful fiction draft ideas. Honestly, the exploration is meditative and hopeful. I am having so so so much fun.

Let me share a little poem I wrote, totally imagining Mom living in her new community, immersed in her local Catholic church and new friends. I thought about her and a friend taking a day to visit the local shopping outlets, from her entry "Tru and I to the outlets": 

the perfect day

how the waitress made us chuckle

shouting our names, saying hello

she knows us now, each morning

early Mass, coffee and biscuits

then we drove to the outlets

searching for the perfect shoes

finding so many bargains

that turquoise blouse looked so good on you

how fun it was to wander into

the little art boutique

so many beautiful pottery pieces

people are so creative

we sat on the bench outside for a bit

remember how cool the air was

how gentle the breeze

such a nice break from the heat

driving back, you shared that story

your trip to the mountains

all the antics that ensued

how we laughed and laughed

I had no sooner put my new things away

when he came through the door

we sat on the porch together

sharing our stories

I seriously don't know where I am 'going' with this project, but it is the perfect thing for me as another winter of isolation bears down.


It's Tuesday and I am participating in the
 Slice of Life.  
Thank you, Two Writing Teachers, for creating this supportive community 
of teacher-writers!

Thursday, January 6, 2022

We teach each other always


New to me in 2022, I am joining a community of writers who offer a little window into their spiritual lives on the first Thursday of every month. (Thank you, Denise Krebs, for connecting me with this writing circle.) Margaret Simon kicks off this year of writing with a post about 'one little word' that will guide her in the days to come; her post provides links to other writers' words. Here's my post this first Thursday of January 2022 . . .

Today finds me lost in thought, with one small yet wonderful 'trigger' memory; let me share:

Mom took one look at the bland-looking, soft, pureed pile of novelty that I had set out on an appetizer tray with some crackers and vegetables, and wrinkled her nose a bit, as if debating whether or not to try it. She saw me glance her way and then quietly commented, "Well, if Maureen put it out, then it must be good, so I'll try it."

This was circa 1990, when my mother dared to taste hummus for the first time, at a get-together at my house. I don't recall whether she liked it - it certainly wasn't anything she purchased at the grocery store ever, even once, but I do remember being so amused by her self-talk that day. As if I had ever convinced her of anything! I figured she was trying to "save face" in front of her young grandchildren, to do the right thing - eat what was served.

What did I teach my parents? Seriously, I wonder. 

When I was teaching, I learned amazing things from the children. 
Those preschoolers - oh my, they taught me 
all about having confidence and how good it is to take risks, 
how dancing makes you feel better, 
how if you are feeling it so strongly, then let your feelings out!

When I am with my granddaughters, I have a new lens on their father, my son. It makes me smile to see how they are changing him, in both subtle and clear ways. I'm not surprised to see him pitch in, to be a true partner in the work of raising children - he always likes to be busy, to do stuff, to get things done. He's always been very organized. I think I'm surprised by how the children bring him out of his quiet reverie. He's a very introspective person; yet, with the girls, he is laughing and chatting, seemingly at their beck and call. To see him be so present, to be playful and to guide them, honestly this is not the little guy I raised. He was the center of our universe (for 2 1/2 years, before the universe expanded, hahaha) and we did our best to be 'present' with him, but not necessarily vice versa. When he was growing up, he was always lost in thought, thinking about other things, 'on a mission' to figure something out. Those girls are changing him, I have no doubt - they are his mission now.

I think about how my boys changed me. 

I think they helped me to speak up in times of conflict. I learned to do it under their watch, because speaking up was not a welcome trait when I was growing up. I most certainly did not debate or argue with my parents. With my boys, I wanted a different style of parenting - and they certainly gave me lots of practice on resolving conflicts with more of a give and take, both parties discussing the problem. They most definitely kept me playful. They taught me to see things more broadly, more diversely - three kids, a spouse, oh my, there were always at least SIX perspectives, right? One more than the number we were?

They definitely taught me to treasure my quiet alone time. (I'm a lot like my son, I like to have time to be lost in thought every day.)

I don't know what made me think of this today. I hope my Mom learned about more than hummus from me - ha! I wonder what my Dad learned from me? 

I know learning is often presented as something the younger, less experienced person receives from the older, more experienced. Teachers know it doesn't always work that way. We are always learning from our students. We know - we learn -  the more challenging the student, the more eye-opening the learning. 

We affect each other, all the time. 
Every moment. Every word. Every step. 

What are people teaching me today?
What are others learning from me?

Tuesday, January 4, 2022

Too many words

Happy January 2022! Another year beckons, another year awaits, another year welcomes. 

We began the year here in Maryland with unseasonably warm temperatures - taking walks in long sleeve shirts, pulling weeds from the yard, sitting on the porch for a moment...the world appearing to be spring. Then, overnight, a storm front came in and the temperatures plummeted and we are now blanketed in snow -

Are we standing on the threshold of another year of the word   


That is not the word I intend to focus on this year, oh my, no. 
If that is the word placed upon my shoulders, I will serve up DENIAL instead. hahaha. 
Escape. Hide. Ignore. Read. Write. Hibernate. 

I've been flirting with choosing 'one little word' for this year, and so many words cross my mind. This is always a bit of a wrestle for me. I find choosing one word to be elusive, impossible, both beyond and narrow...not quite big enough and yet overwhelming. How can one little word hold all my hopes and dreams for the time ahead?

I have a daily practice of a 'word of the day' - as revealed by angel cards, a gift from a dear friend a long time ago. This is an inspirational and uplifting ritual, to randomly select a simple word of positivity and see what lens it adds to my day - do I struggle to achieve the word? does it spontaneously appear over and over throughout the day? I often begin my day by journaling into and about this one word.

Don't I need at least one word a day, not just one for the year?

Yesterday morning, as the snow fell, I sat on my bed with a cup of tea and my journal, with the curtains pulled open wide, so I could be an eyewitness to the immersive quiet of the falling wonder. 

Truly, is there anything more delightful than a snow day? This unexpected indulgence of found time?

I had to take a photo:

No, I thought, I need to look closer. So I got out of bed and moved nearer:

No, this is still not enough for me, I must get closer, so I moved all the nearer to the screen:

Oh my, look at my mahonia shrub. It has been unexpectedly transformed - this prickly bush looks so soft and cuddly, almost squishy, like a child's plaything. The gift of snow, letting me see things in new ways.

Wait...what is that? I looked even closer, and took one more photo:

Still paused at my window yet looking even closer,  I discovered that the snow had created almost a path in the midst of the shrubs, a hollowing out, beckoning, inviting...revealing this magical little open space that is not normally there.

Do you see it, too?

This, this, this
is what I want for my year ahead,
to follow embrace manifest expect wander imagine do play go nurture believe pursue immerse pause hope dive linger create unfold reveal connect explore deepen love.

I want to find the ever-present positive, I want to find the light.

I am realizing, it is so easy to name what is painful and hard about life these days.
It is so easy to wallow and complain.

My intention this year is to seek, discover, and observe
the light that surrounds me
even in the midst of all this yuck.

Why not focus on
what is good in the world and bask in this a little bit?
What offers hope?
What joy am I missing?

This year, I seek light and 
strive to share it, show it, shine it, 
whenever possible. 

There's my one little word:

Yes, I like that.

Happy new year, everyone!! May blessings abound!


It's Tuesday and I am participating in the
 Slice of Life.  
Thank you, Two Writing Teachers, for creating this supportive community 
of teacher-writers!