Efficiency is boring: Why I always stop for ice cream

When my girls were young, I often felt overwhelmed. Part of the problem was the unrealistic expectations I placed upon myself. Another part was the constant feeling that I needed to get more things done in a shorter amount of time. Many nights I went to bed feeling worn out and frustrated, as though all I had accomplished was spinning my wheels. I constantly chased efficiency.

Hindsight is kind to me now. I’m able to see what really matters was happening quite invisibly while we stumbled about. My children were growing into human beings, and oh what marvelous human beings they have become.

But it didn’t happen efficiently.

Raising children is a long, sprawling, messy, inefficient process. Sure, you can rush it along, but why? We have decades and decades of adulting ahead of us. Childhood, on the other hand, is just a tiny span of time. And yet its sprawling untidiness often made me feel as though I was somehow living completely wrong. I knew there must be a way to tighten up, to remove the messiness.

If there is a way, I sure never figured it out. We had cereal for dinner for days when my husband was out of town. Also, ice cream. We wore dirty clothes and, sometimes, skipped baths. We definitely skipped school on beautiful days and not-so-beautiful days. They never took a test or received a grade. Not one. I never got it all together, and so each day was a bit of an adventure without a map leading us to the end point.

Gosh, I’m so glad for this.

I’m so glad we chased curiosity and went to Sea World on Thursdays (sometimes every Thursday.) I’m glad we watched movies on rainy days and took unexpected trips and left chores unfinished to read just one more chapter.

Our rampant inefficiency has led to the most interesting life. My delightfully messy children have grown into such captivating adults. Sometimes we sit around the dinner table and have discussions that swing from silliness to serious and back again so fast I almost have motion sickness. We look at the world from the front, back, and sideways and never see the same things twice, nor hold the same opinion very often. We’re not neat or conventional and, most certainly, not at all efficient.

We aren’t boring, either.

It’s only taken me forty-four years to figure out efficiency is boring. The point isn’t  to get to the next things as quickly as possible just so to cross it off some cosmic list. The point is to suck every bit of enjoyment out of the journey even if it means it takes five minutes or five hours more. Also, you should definitely stop for ice cream. With sprinkles.

 

The state of home (or I have no idea what to say today)

The air-conditioning is out in my van – again. I’m sad about it, mostly because it’s fairly hellish outside. Although, it does give me a great reason to not go anywhere at all. We all know how much I love staying at home.

This week, in a fit of energy conservation and frustration at my inability to stay within the grocery budget, I unplugged the second fridge. Hunky keeps asking me, “Why are we doing this again?” And I’m not sure how to explain that it feels like an act of resistance and a stab at control.  I may still have rage issues.

One of my progeny (I’m not allowed to say which, publicly lest her application isn’t selected) is applying to an international mission trip in the spring. I’m excited and jealous. She’s stepping out of her comfort zone to do this and I applaud her for it.

However, I either need to win the lottery or start making money blogging or get a real job. If I apply to Chic-fil-A my daughter can be my boss. Also, I will starve to death. (Chicken isn’t vegetarian).

This morning I fed eleven cats. ELEVEN CATS. As much as I like the quiet of summer when all the college students are away, I need school to start again so I’m not the only person in the neighborhood caring for these semi-feral critters. All commentary on my decision to feed these cats will be ignored. I don’t kill spiders – do you really think I’m letting kittens starve? No.

Family vacation coming soon. I am ready ready ready. The ocean is calling. I’m collecting books and making grocery lists and trying not to be anxious about leaving the dogs for ten days. As I write this Mo has draped himself across all my pillows staring at me with lovelorn eyes. Perhaps it’s ridiculous but our love is real. I miss them when we leave home.

Today relationships are on my mind. How I do better with a few, close friendships than a vast sprawling network. About the power of small kindnesses and the interconnectedness of sharing the day-to-day mundane over the span of years. I started to write about that today, but it’s not ready yet. I need to let it marinate a little longer.

I’m terribly behind on book reviews which is a shame as I’ve read some really great stuff lately. Since I don’t plan to leave home this week without A/C, maybe I’ll get a chance to finish them at last. I can’t make it rich as a professional reader while being a book review slacker now can I?

Thus is the state of my head, heart, and home this Friday. Summer rolls along and takes me with it, just as it always has.

 

Happy Birthday to the Man who loves

This morning I went to Kroger, early, before-early-service early. I had a few last minute things to grab for tonight’s special birthday dinner. While I was there it seemed every third person had to stop me and make sure I wished my Hunky happy birthday for them. People I didn’t even know asked me to pass on their well wishes.  Generally, I don’t enjoy shopping, but today’s trip made me smile and then laugh. I guarantee my Hunky hasn’t told anyone today is his birthday, and yet still people know and send their love.

That’s the kind of man I married. He makes people feel seen, heard and loved. Without agenda, he simply, genuinely cares about people, all people, everywhere. We’ve been married for two decades, and I see it everywhere we go. I’m married to a man whose heart is big enough to embrace the entire world, and isn’t afraid for people to know it.

When we spend a day in public, my girls play a game where they keep count of the people who stop for a hug or a hand shake or just to share a few words. Craig never forgets a name, or a face, or a story. Perhaps it’s the last one that’s the most important. He takes the time to hear someone’s story and he remembers the details.

It’s not just people “out there” either. Here at home, he sees, he hears, he remembers. Details and events that have long left my working memory he recalls in perfect detail. But he never uses these things against us, or to prove a point. Instead he uses them to elevate, to reflect and to constantly remind us how much we are loved. He loves in a way that makes people want to be around him simply to be reminded of our inherent worth.

When we left Florida, we weren’t allowed the opportunity to say goodbye to anyone. But once our severance period ended, a dear friend opened her home for a sort of long awaited farewell party. Most of that night is a blur to me now, but what I will never forget is that people literally LITERALLY filled every room and then out onto the porch, down the walk way and lined the sidewalk down the street, waiting, for a very long time, for their turn to receive a Craig hug. For hours and hours he hugged and listened and loved and cried.

For all my life, I will never forget what it is like to see in such a concentrated way how it affects everyone around you to be a person who loves well and fully.

If you’ve read any part of the last hundred days of writing, you know I’m a big, floundering, messed up human. I’m not certain that will ever change. But what balances me out is being deeply known and passionately loved. How true it is that kind of love covers over a multitude of sins. It certainly does for me.

Happy birthday to my love, my heart of hearts. The world is absolutely a better more beautiful place with you in it. I hope you never doubt that. And never forget your meaner, less forgiving half is more than happy to take on anyone who says otherwise.

On fathers: when one day holds so many big emotions

It occurred to me this morning while walking the dog, this is our twentieth father’s day. It’s hard to imagine this is true. Granted, we celebrated for the future that long-ago, first fathers day. Our oldest was a bump of possibility, only beginning to make herself known. But we celebrated, dreaming of a lifetime of fathers days to come.

I feel a tinge of sorrow today as well. I had only twenty-five fathers days with my own father, nearly as many have passed as were observed.  It’s funny to me, looking back over celebrations with our children, twenty years seems a lifetime, and remembering how many I have missed, it seems far too few. Time is such an elastic and untrustworthy construct.

My husband had only four fathers days with his father. He isn’t here for me to ask, but I imagine he has no memory of them. And yet, when it comes to fathering, I can’t imagine anyone who loves with more care and consideration than he does. His love in action is beautiful. Even now, it brings tears to my eyes. In my life I have received two great gifts, one of experiencing a wonderful father, and one of watching a man become a wonderful father.

Whenever we, as a culture, celebrate these identity specific holidays, it seems we enter into a minefield. Fatherhood isn’t always beautiful or empowering. For some it’s an empty space, or filled with difficult, painful memories, for others it’s grieving someone lost. There’s room for all of these feelings, from great joy to deep pain. There isn’t one way to feel about fathers, just as there isn’t one fathering template to follow.

For me, today, I’m making room for great, big emotions, the swell of love and pride for the father who shapes our lives, the ache and emptiness for the one who gently shaped mine. There is room, room for both. One does not negate the other. The joy isn’t better or more important than the grief. Both are valid and together they make the day more beautiful still.

Maybe you have complicated feelings this father’s day. It’s OK. If you are looking for permission to feel however you feel, here it is. Feel your joy, your gratitude, your grief, your pain, your loss, your pride, your heart. Celebrate what is worth celebrating, for there is so much to praise in this world. Mourn what is worth mourning for there is so much pain in this world. Be generous with your love, for your fathers, for your children, for each other.

It’s an amazing thing to be alive, and I am so very grateful for my experience in this world, the beautiful and the sorrowful as well.

Waiting on the wind to change

I met an old friend at the post office today. She is moving soon and was eager to tell me the news. While I tamped down my jealousy, we shared moving tips and ideas. She talked about her basement, and told her the best place to unload her stuff in town. we discussed packing and purging, two of my favorite things to do. I’m excited for her that everything feels like a whirlwind of change and newness. The smile on her face was absolutely contagious.

I’ve experienced change in the whirlwind fashion before. It’s equal parts exciting and terrifying, and often leaves you gasping for breath the same way running a hard mile will do. Given a choice I will always choose the rapid pace over the slower one, at least where big change is concerned. Right now, however, I clearly don’t have a choice. We’re on the slow train to change and there is no speeding this process along until the moment the pieces fall in to place. This month? Probably not. This year? Who can say.

Limbo, limbo, limbo.

Meanwhile we’re doing the things rooted people do: meal planning and school enrolling. We’re looking ahead while letting go, acknowledging the ends of seasons in healthy ways. I’m grateful for this. Grateful for the natural turning of time rather than the unexpected emptiness when the rug is yanked out from under you.

But gratitude doesn’t change the fact that I’ve got bag to haul to Goodwill in the back of my car.

We’re being stripped, right now. Down to the bare bones, the essential elements, carrying only the most essential parts of our soul – the ones we cannot give away and still remain ourselves. There’s a vulnerability and a rawness to this process. It’s damn near excruciating most days. Other times it’s wrapped around with golden threads of anticipation. Even when you don’t know what’s next. something is…something is.

So I sink my roots in portable things, routines and digital words, pictures grabbing moments and memories as they happen, in case tomorrow changes everything.

Because it could. It could for any one of us.

The true story of Nattie Rose: Mother, book lover, friend

Once upon a time, a fair princess, Nattie Rose, lived in a hobbit house, right in the middle of a cornfield. The princess loved purple, and diet coke and books. She had so many books they stacked from floor to ceiling. Even though the eaves were low in the hobbit house, when she looked at her stacks of books she felt she possessed great treasure, a richness of words and stories.

Two fair children lived with the princess. They didn’t have magic or perform feats of great strength. In fact, they were fey, funny and mischievous and sometimes downright naughty. In other words, they were much like most ordinary children except these two were hers. She loved them as much as her books and then times infinity plus the moon.

The princess possessed a great many gifts besides her children and books. Although sometimes life seemed unimaginably cruel, she never stopped believing good fortune awaited her. “Onward and upward,” she’d say after every set back. The princess also possessed the gift of words, which she shared generously with anyone who needed kindness or encouragement.

The one thing the princess could not do well was dishes. Occasionally dishes would pile almost as high as her stacks of books. When this happened, her counselors would advise she fill the little bathtub in the hobbit-sized bathroom with soap and water. Then everyone would laugh at the absurdity of washing dishes in the tub, but once they were done the princess was able to be happy again, and read her books without guilt or danger of cutlery avalanche.

One day, the princess began to feel a bit ill. At first she attributed her loose fitting gowns to the meager fare she and her children subsisted on since her prince had succumbed to an evil spell and disappeared. But soon, even the the blandest food and her beloved diet coke made her sick. Although her counselors and family begged her to see a doctor, there was barely enough money already to care for her children. She simply couldn’t consider the selfishness of paying for medicine instead. It was only when she became too weak and sick to tend to the things she loved most that she finally sought help.

Alas, when the doctor put her in an enchanted sleep and looked beneath her fair skin, he found a demon wrapped around her stomach. It’s vile arms reaching up her throat as though to strangle her from the inside. Although they couldn’t slay the demon, they hoped to find medicine that would weaken it, or shrink it. Perhaps they could try again one day when she was stronger.

But the princess by now was very weak and tired. Although she loved her children, family and friends desperately, she didn’t have the strength to leave her sick bed. One night, not long after the doctors delivered the diagnosis, Princess Nattie closed her eyes and never opened them again.

Natalie Rose York died before dawn on June 7, 2007. She was loved by many and is still deeply missed and mourned by those who were touched by her friendship and love. More than anything in this world she loved a good story. Today in her honor, I’ve shared the tiniest piece of hers. Since she is still writing her story in my life, I decided it isn’t time yet to say “the end.”

Onward and upward.

Looking for a quiet space to read: 100 story summer

This weekend is the culmination of a month of planning and pushing through. As in all busy weeks, reading didn’t make it to the priority list. I read in the gaps, in the moments before succumbing to sleep, or while waiting in the car. But I can see the June, the month of no, shining on the horizon. Today we celebrate our wonderful middle girl Bailey for working hard and completing high school as well as her first year of college. Next week can be about reading again. This week the story is all about our girl.

Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter

I am a firm believer that sometimes, we have to try a book on more than one occasion to determine if it’s really not a good fit. Sometimes the book is fine, it’s us who isn’t ready or open or a good fit yet. Beautiful Ruins is a book which proves this point, at least for me. It’s been about five years since I tried to read this.  I was lured in the first time by the gorgeous cover. Although, I don’t remember why specifically I finally put it down; I was a good way into the book when I did. I do remember feeling unable to connect with the characters and that the story was disjointed.

Fortunately, this book came around again thanks to my postal book club. Because I was accountable to read it, I was determined to try it again. And whoa nelly! am I ever glad I did. I absolutely LOVED this story the second time around. The setting is lush and isolated, the characters quirky, broken, searching, flawed and beautiful (well, mostly beautiful, some characters are simple distasteful no matter what.). Making brilliant use of shifting time lines and POVs, a mystery, of sorts, unfolds. All along the way, each narrator searches for love and belonging in their own way.

I am delighted to have the chance to change my opinion on this amazing book. I highly recommend it to all.

My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve picked this book up only to return it to the library unread, through no fault of the book itself. The hype surrounding the story kept bringing me back, and finally, I picked it up and finished it all in one sitting. I’m not sure what I expected, but what I got was a quiet rumination on family, relationships and ghosts from our past. The story is different than I imagined, very understated and vague. It hints and peeks around corners rather than blatantly revealing harsh details. It quietly forgives even when we aren’t sure what is being forgiven.

This book is a perfect quiet afternoon read. It doesn’t hurry or make you turn pages quickly to see what’s next. It is thoughtful and complex and deserves undivided attention so no layers get missed. I’m looking forward to the companion book, Anything is Possible which releases this summer (and may already be available).

 

Finding Calm: Something Fun Sunday, Ep. 6

The week has finally arrived. My middle daughter’s graduation party is this week, and I am knocking down the details while trying to maintain my cool, calm demeanor in the middle of it. *snort*  OK, maybe calm isn’t the first word that comes to mind when you think of me, but I am working on creating margin, so I have no need to panic, and making time to sleep, exercise, eat and create. Which brings us to the fun stuff.

I know Saturday is technically the day I talk about books around here (On the blog, at least; I talk about books at home on the daily). But I feel it’s necessary to put first things first when I speak of fun things. This week marks the release of Modern Mrs. Darcy’s summer reading guide. As usual, I’ve obsessed all week over what is available at my library (nothing), and what is available on overdrive (a few). I’ve picked out the ones I can’t miss, and the ones I am not so sure about. I’ve arranged and rearranged my too read list based on what I want to read now and what is coming due at the library. What can I say, book are serious business around here.

Today two of the books on the reading guide are on sale for kindle. I’ll link them at the bottom of the page.

Having reached the pinnacle week of May, I’m personally anticipating arriving in June and not feeling completely burned out. For me, this is a huge win. But as an introvert, I know by the time June rolls around, I will feel maxed out socially.

June is officially the month of no. I will not make commitments nor will I travel. I will not be out four nights a week. No will be a word I use often and with great relish. With my family and close friends I try to say yes as often as possible, but next month even those will be sparing. It’s good to give and give joyfully, but there is also a time to lay low and replenish. I loved this article about saying no.

A key component in my daily balancing act is the calm app. I’m using it twice a day currently. Those fifteen minute chunks may be the most important thing I do each day. My anxiety is better. I don’t struggle as much with anger and resentment. I feel calm (go figure). There is a free version if you want to try it out, and it’s apple and android compatible.

Finally this:

Graduation

I can’t even apologize for the language. In this month of nostalgia and misty eyes, when people express sorrow that I am growing older and my children are leaving home, this is how I feel.
Empty nest party time is almost here, folks. We’re powering through.

 


One Hundred Story Summer: When you have an off-week

I knew it would be difficult to top last week’s reading experience. In fact, it’s not uncommon for me to stall out for a bit after a series of really good books. This week, I held true to form. I couldn’t settle on a book, and when I did I was unhappy with my choice. It was enough that I considered not even writing a story post this week. But, I finished on a high note. And since I’m practicing the art of finishing what I start, even in an off-week, I’m sharing with you. Here we go.

Drink: The Intimate Relationship between Women and Alcohol by Ann Dowsett Johnston

I debated whether or not this book fit into the “story” category. I often read for information, but I won’t count those as stories for the 100 story summer. However, this book fits both categories of informative and memoir, as the framework is a personal memoir of recovery from alcohol addiction.  While alcohol is not my struggle in recovery, there was much from her personal experience that I related to. The specifics of recovery may be different for each person, but there are also components which seem universal, this book only proved that hypothesis to me. I very much enjoyed the personal element of the story.

Unfortunately, I often got bogged down in the torrent of information between the personal interludes.  I enjoy information so for me to find this overwhelming means a lot. I occasionally found myself skimming just to get past it and back to the personal story. This may be because I’m not entirely on-board with her message, or it may be because she is so passionate to drive her point home. Whichever the case, it took me a while to finish as it wasn’t one I could read in large chunks without tuning out. This is one I recommend, but with caution. Be sure you are ready for all the facts before you enter.

Chasing Slow: Courage to Journey off the Beaten Path by Erin Loechner

This book has been on my radar since it came out strictly because of its title. It seems I, too, am always chasing slow. When it showed up as an Amazon deal (still on sale today), I grabbed it. Alas, now I suffer from buyer’s remorse. I wish that I had done a bit more research on the author and content before I’d purchased it. It isn’t that the writing or story are bad. They aren’t, in fact her style is lovely. It just wasn’t a good fit for me. The author is a lifestyle and fashion blogger, very much not my niche. I also didn’t feel like the story went anywhere. We began with a certain issue, and circled it and circled it…and circled it…and circled it without ever landing the plane.

What I’m leaving with is this: it wasn’t for me because of my personality and taste. You might like it, but maybe find out more about it before you commit.

Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng

First of all I found this book un-put-down-able. I read it in two sittings, the second one consuming the last three-fourths of the book. Secondly, never have I been so conflicted in my emotions. Thirdly, the more I think about it having finished it, the more deeply I love it. Opening with the most haunting line I’ve ever read:

Lydia is dead. But they don’t know this yet.

This book is complex, exquisite, agonizing and beautiful. The characters are hard to love, and yet wonderfully relate-able. I wanted to give up on them so often, but instead I found myself rooting for them over and over again. Exploring issues of race, gender, generations, expectations, sibling relationships, sexuality, and grief and loss, this book balances the line between beauty and destruction and never once loses its way. Maybe it’s because I love people in recovery, but I couldn’t walk away from these deeply damaged, vulnerably beautiful, destructive people.

I don’t believe this is a book everyone will find appealing (there may be triggers if you have experienced trauma so check the content), but if you are the type who believes in redemption for flawed humanity, this one is right up your alley.

Although I stuttered out of the gate this week, I’m glad to have ended with a remarkable story.  Next week is crazy busy for all the best and most celebratory ways, but hopefully, I can still squeeze a few books in.

How four “unimportant” choices changed my life

Today the Hunky and I went to a nearby monastery. The moment I walk on the grounds, a sense of overwhelming peace comes over me. It’s the perfect place to pause, linger and dive into deep thoughts. I spent my portion of the day thinking, journaling and reading, but first, I took a walk on the Rockdale River Trail. Since I wasn’t equipped for a true hike today, I only traveled a couple miles. Taking only myself and my thoughts, I spent some time considering how small choices sometimes change the entire trajectory of your life.

I’m not talking about momentous occasions: which college to attend, whether or not to have surgery, where to move type decisions. I mean the odd occurrence when we blithely choose to do something, giving it barely a thought, and afterwards nothing is ever the same. Crazy life shifting moments where you have to wonder if fate or design reached in and flipped a switch in your brain, leading you to the right course for your life. I like to think I have control over many things, but moments like these, I wonder if I’m really only along for the ride.

The time I said yes to a “we have no better offer” Valentine’s Day date.

It’s true. My husband and my first date was because neither one of us had a better offer. We’d been friends for a bit. Both recently ending relationships which weren’t really serious anyway, but still left us dateless on an important date night. However, once we’d decided to just hang out with each other, it was all over. Valentine’s Day ended up being crazy romantic. I walked around with a big goofy grin on my face everywhere (still do, most of the time). And within weeks, we knew this was the actual big L.  I barely gave the choice a thought the day I made it, and it is to date, the single most important, and best, decision I ever made.

The time I read Fast, Food Nation because it “sounded kind of interesting”

Let me be honest here. I never ate a single vegetable growing up. I hated them. Hate. And if my mom made me eat things I hated I would literally vomit everywhere. Probably on purpose, though it sure felt involuntary at the time. Even once I got older, my veggie palate was pretty spare. But reading Fast Food Nation was so horrifying (and really only the tip of the iceberg for what I’ve since learned about mass production of food, especially meat) that even before I finished it, I knew meat and I were through. Over the last twelve years my palate has vastly expanded, and changed. I still don’t eat meat, a decision which has opened my eyes to so many concepts I now practice.

The time I blogged for thirty days on “organization”

This one probably had a bit more consideration behind it then the first two choices, but what’s funny about it is the place I began, is not at all close to the place I finished. I planned writing about getting organized, managing my stuff and my schedule. I wanted to find a way to have it all and still have room for more. What I found instead is minimalism. At some point on that thirty day journey, I fell into the minimalism rabbit hole. I haven’t found my way out yet. I discovered that not only do I not need it all, I don’t even want it. Not the square feet, not the stuff, not the clothes, none of it.  I even minimized my books (that one hurt a little).

The time I fostered a puppy “for a week”

I still think I could successfully foster a pup. What I cannot do is take in a dog, have it become deathly ill, sleep with it on the couch for fear it will die in the night, have it’s departure delayed due to illness for six weeks and then hand over the dog I have grown to love. We took in Moses, a tiny, scrawny, wormy puppy with no intent of keeping him at all. But life happened, as it does. By the time Mo recovered from parvo, I couldn’t imagine our house without him. Since then he’s brought laughter and joy and daily squishes. He’s my best guy.

There’s plenty of other decisions I’ve made over my lifetime. Some big, most not terribly consequential. Some of them have changed my life at least as much as these four things, but in those instances, I felt the weight before making them. I understood their import and power to change things completely. These four decisions were throw-away choices at best. Still, I can’t imagine who I would be without having made them. Life is funny like that sometimes.