Sunday, December 30, 2012

For my husband of 21 years

The Wild Rose
Wendell Barry

Sometimes, hidden from me
 in daily custom and in trust,

I live by you unaware, 
as if by the beating of my heart,

Suddenly you flare again in my sight,
A wild rose blooming at the edge
 of the thicket,  grace and light
 where yesterday was only shade,

and once again I am blessed, choosing 
again what I chose before



Friday, December 21, 2012


It's the end of the world today.

It's dark, raining and cold. My high school son sends me an angry text message telling me of a gun threat at school. It is only a rumor, but still....Why did I make him go today? It is my fault.

My oldest son is thousands of miles away and I miss the smell of him, the feel of his reluctant hug. He will be absent at Christmas, like he was at Thanksgiving. Like he is every day now.

The tasks I need to accomplish today all seem repetitive, boring, senseless. I almost go to that bad place, but I just happen to look to my left and there they are:

Life tries to catch me up in her dramas and I almost start spinning away with her, but the sweet, simple discussion between two 5-year old boys anchors me.

They save me once more.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Serendipity, angels and one fat cat

I believe in angels. I like believing that the people close to me who have died are still with me somehow. I like feeling that angels are around me or can be summoned at a moments notice when I need comfort or support.

There was a time when I didn't give angels any thought. That was the time before I lost someone I loved. Once a loved one "transitions", you start to really wonder where to. Of course, no one has the absolute truth about the matter, so we all just go with what feels best, with what we believe.

I am a stay-at-home mom and have been doing this glorious job for over 18 years. It is the best job there is and my life has been very full, but lately I have been starting to feel like I need something more. Something for me.

I started to think about writing.  Jeb and I have had a pretty unique parenting journey; I could write a few of my thoughts down, share some adventures and work my brain a bit in the process. I could write a blog maybe? That would be something I could do and still keep my current job (my 5 year old twins are building a fort with the couch as I write this). Now if I only knew how to write a blog...

I jumped in and wrote a piece that had been on my mind to share for a while. The post  was about two of my angels: my fifth child and my mother. This child came to us in a special way and she and my mother died within weeks of each other. I named my daughter Ava Mae because my mother's nickname was May. I knew they were connected and I wanted Ava's name to reflect this. It was a very personal and got some of wonderful feedback (with the help of my brothers, Ned and Drew, and Facebook). I enjoyed how it felt to create it and the connections that were born from it. I was fueled.

During the time I was writing the piece, I was looking into going to a yoga workshop in Rhode Island. Well, it turned out the workshop got cancelled, but I happened to notice that the center that was holding the workshop was also offering a one day class on blogging.  Huh. That 's weird. I was just thinking I needed something like that... I clicked on the link. It was a four hour class, held on a Saturday in an area that looked like fun. Why not? A few clicks later, I was headed to Rhode Island.

As a mom of 6 kids I'm always looking for some time alone. My job is a dream, but sometimes I lose myself in it and I crave a little solitude to clear my head. So, click, click, click.  The four hour workshop became a full weekend away alone for Mom in R.I.
not bad...

I've done this before: run away for the weekend. My understanding husband gallantly and expertly holds down the fort while I go searching for my sanity. The pattern is always pretty much the same:
Stage 1:  anticipation and excitement of going away alone
Stage 2:  the stress of actually making the break
Stage 3:  the relief of finally arriving at my destination
Stage 4:  missing my family.  Oh, the irony!

But this time I had some company. The owner of the house had a cat that came with the rental. She was a sweet, fat tabby that looked like my favorite cat back home. It was comforting to have another living creature in the too quiet house. We chatted for a bit and she sat next to me on the couch as I ate my dinner and watched a movie.

The next day on the way home from the blogging class, I drove by an ice cream shop and craned my neck as I realized, "Hey...I've been there!". After a few moments, the rusty wheels of my brain started turning and I recalled I was indeed in this area for a training about 12 years ago. Not once when I was planning my trip did it cross my mind that I had been here before.

When I came back to the quiet house, the cat was happy to see me. She cuddled up next to me on the couch as searched the internet to encourage my brain to bring back a few more memories. It popped into my head that I had lunch with a few of the other attendees at the training over a decade ago. A few clicks later I found the restaurant we went to. It was only three doors down from where I had just spent my day. I remembered the name of the restaurant because there was a feeling of discomfort attached to it. My companions were discussing the name of the restaurant. It was called The Mews, but another thought it was Muse. I was uncomfortable because I didn't quite know the meaning of either word, but acted as if I did.  "Muse" was always one of those words that I knew I should know, but never made the effort to look up.

Well, dammit, 12 years later, I was gonna look up those darn words! I zipped on over to Wiki (and of course made a donation) and first looked up "Mews". Mews can be a British courtyard or the sound a cat makes. I smiled and gave the warm lump purring beside me a pat.

Under "Muse" was the following:

"Some authors invoke Muses when writing poetry, hymns, or epic history. The invocation typically occurs at or near the beginning, and calls for help or inspiration, or simply invites the Muse to sing through the author. Some prose authors also call on the aid of Muses, who are called as the true speaker for whom an author is merely a mouthpiece".

Wow. When I wrote my piece on Ava Mae, I asked her to help me. At one point, I even closed my eyes and asked her to speak through me. She was my Muse. 

While I was retrieving memories with the help of the web, the owner of the house texted me to see how things were going and if I needed anything. The only thing I needed was to know the name of the soft creature now on my lap. I felt like we had a connection and it felt strange not to know her name. As I was stroking her head, in came his reply:

May. The damn cat's name was May.

Ok, do I really think the fat cat belonging to a complete stranger actually had some type an angelic message for me from beyond, just because she happened to have the same name as my mother and daughter?

Sure. As a matter of fact, I do.

And why the hell not?

"There are two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle." ~Albert Einstein

Monday, December 10, 2012

Pellet vs Wood: A public service announcement

Our gas bill averaged $700 a month last winter. Outrageous. We had to do something.  We couldn't afford to heat with gas again for another long, cold New England winter. We needed to find an alternative heat source. The two most popular choices were either a pellet stove or a wood stove.

We spend weeks debating the two. We asked everyone we knew how they heated their home and collected all the data. We decided on pellet because it was cheaper. If we wanted to do wood, we would have to line our chimney and that alone would cost us $2500. We just couldn't swing that at the moment and we wanted instant gratification in the form of economical heat.

A lot of our research took place online. When I searched "pellet vs wood", I got consumer forums and stove dealers trying to sell their goods. What I wish I came across was an honest, personal account like the one that I am going to share with you here. I would have had my answer in minutes and saved us about 2 grand.

This is also an excellent example of things going awry when a person does not follow their gut feelings. Yes, gut feelings are important when choosing major appliances as well as the deep ethereal stuff. If I go back and analyze my feelings, all the signs were all there:

Upon learning stove needs to be plugged in:
Feeling: Well, that's just not right.

Devil on my shoulder leading me away from true feelings: That will be fine. Living in town you never lose power anyway. You can hide the plug.

On using strange, wooden, bunny-turd like things to heat my home:
Feeling: That just doesn't sit well with me. How much energy is being used to make these things and package them and ship them around? Am I going to be at the mercy of some retailer now? Will the cost of pellets be driven up whenever they see fit?

Devil: It's fine! Fine, I say! Its just the logging industry efficiently using their waste. Jobs are being created!

Concern about the fan noise:
Feeling: A fan going all the time? I don't know. Living with a house chock full with 7 other humans, I am very sensitive to noise. Silence is more than golden; It is sacred. I'm not sure I can live with a fan blowing constantly.

Devil: Would you stop your whining? For the first time in 18 years your house will be toasty warm all winter and you can comfortably pay your heating bills. You can live with a gentle "whir" in the background.

When our expert technician came and installed the stove and turned it on, I looked at him, stunned. "You're kidding, right?". I had to ask him this question in my head because the embarrassing reality was that I had never heard a real pellet stove in action. The fact is (as I bow my head in shame), I watched a YouTube video to hear what one sounded like. The Devil said it was fine.

The truth is that fucking fan drives me insane. Bonkers. Once one of the kids accidentally unplugged (!) the stove and I almost wept with the gift of the sudden quiet. I took a deep, cleansing breath and thought, "Oh my, that is so nice."

"You are being a spoiled, ungrateful brat!" my devil friend told me. "Suck it up."

...And then we had the following experience this Saturday morning. The experience that allowed me to slap that devil off my shoulder and look at our situation clearly. And that's what it is: our situation  There are lots of valid opinions out there, but now the answer to what is right for me is crystal clear. When I was in the throes of the decision making process, I did not tune in to my real feelings and I let the feelings related to money make the decision. In the end, I did not get what I really wanted and now we are living with the consequences.  Damn. I hate when that happens.

So here it is: my gift to those grappling with this important question: Should we get a pellet stove or a wood stove?  Maybe the following scenario will help you decide...

Thursday, December 6, 2:46 pm: Check for pellet stove clears.

Saturday, December 8, 7:12 am: Wake up to cold house. Pellet stove has stopped working.  

    7:18 am: turn on gas heat

    7:23 am: make coffee to better cope with what is in store and how the morning will most likely unfold...

    8:03 am:                                      
In-house technician manually empties 40 lbs of pellets from stove with used yogurt container. Pellets litter the floor.

8:36 am:
Tech with pre-existing sore back single-handedly attempts to move 300 lb insert to diagnose the problem

9:02 am:
Cheerful assistant "helps" by holding flashlight. Hope the support will prevent the tech from blowing his stack

9:27 am:
A new problem arises and a tech apprentice moves in to make assessment

9:31 am
Manual is consulted. Technician borrows 10-year old daughter's hip, leopard print reading glasses to read unhelpful, poorly written text.

10:01 am

Tech is back at it while children decide pellets will be fun to play with.

10:26 am
"Special" forces in red fleece jammies are called in for a consult. Children continue to fling pellets around room

10:46 am
Tech thinks he has solved the problem. Moves 300 lb stove back into place and turns stove on.
Tech has failed to solve the problem. Tech demonstrates gallant self control and mutters expletives only to self.
Our hero leaves for well-timed acupuncture appointment for sore back.

11:01 am
With in-house tech safely out of earshot, Wife calls real technician

1:35 pm

Our in-house tech returns. Cannot stand the fact that he has not solved the mystery. Dismantles stove yet again to reevaluate problem.
To be continued, unfortunately.

As I sit here now, on Monday morning, the house is still blissfully quiet. Liquid gold is flowing through our baseboard heaters. Our excellent real technician will arrive at some point and get that damn pellet stove working again and Jeb and I will start saving our pennies for the wood stove that we really wanted in the first place.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

How do you find your Soul Mate*?

*(a.k.a. your one true love, the love of your life...blah, blah)

An open letter to my children

and anyone else who will listen to me

Do I really have the answer to this age old question?

Yup. I do. So, listen up. I know what I'm talking about.

I've have been married to the love of my life for 22 years and I still find comfort in his embrace, electricity in his kiss and delight in his humor. At the end of the day, I still want to sit by his side. The fact that I still feel this way about your dad is remarkable. You realize this don't you? So, stop rolling your eyes and take some notes.

Look around you. How many of your friends have parents that are still married? Of those that are still married, how many of them actually like each other? After 20-plus years, I think its pretty obvious that your dad and I still like each other. In fact, I think he is the smartest, funniest, kindest, and (cover your eyes) sexiest man I know. If Johnny Depp knocked on the door and wanted a quick roll in the hay, I would say, "No thanks, Johnny. I'm good". Then I would proceed to invite him in, sit him on the couch and help him figure out what went wrong with Vanessa. This is because I know what I'm talking about. I got this.

If you have any interest in a joyful life, do not fuck this one up.

Choosing your partner is one of the most important decisions you will make in your life. It is absolutely the most important decision if you are going to have a family. It is the foundation on which everything else is built. This foundation needs to be rock solid. Your father and I had no idea how important this strength would be in years to come. As you well know, our journey has not been easy, but it has always been good. Always.

The crises that we went through could have destroyed our family if our relationship wasn't as solid as it is. Instead of crumbling, we became stronger. As the storms blew in, we wrapped layer after layer of love around us and became impenetrable. This could never of happened if we didn't like each other so much. Who could stand to be wrapped in all those layers if they were made of  sandpaper? Choose to wrap yourself in cashmere. Life is full of intensity; it is guaranteed. You'd be smart to make yourself comfortable.

People talk themselves into staying in relationships all the time: "If s/he only did _____, everything would be perfect."   "S/he's just really stressed right now". One of my friends once uttered the classic whopper: "I think he'll settle down once we have kids"...painful divorce.

They never just stop to think about how they really feel about the person, deep down. Truth is, they are a little scared to discover the truth. But it is there. It is always there. You just have to have the guts to look for it. Don't be afraid to ask the two most basic, yet essential, questions: "Do I like this person?" and "Does this person like me?" Ridiculously obvious, I know, but critical. Never once in 22 years has your Dad made me feel bad about or doubt myself. 

Not once. He likes me. I'd let all my chips ride on it.

Do not, under any circumstances, settle for good enough. You, as your own person, need to feel complete on your own. You need to feel confident that you would be just fine to live your life with only yourself to keep you company. You have to like you: fully and completely,  inside and out. You need to know you deserve the very best and settle for nothing less.

How do you cultivate such magnificent self esteem?  Do what you love. Find out what makes you feel good inside and selfishly pursue it. Think about you first. I know it goes against a lot of the advice out there, but as I said before, I got this one. Now, this doesn't mean go be a total asshole. It just means you should never make excuses  for taking care of yourself. Always be considerate of and kind to others, but never compromise what is important to you. Pay attention to what you feel in your heart. Do what makes you smile and makes you feel really, really great. Think about the airplane analogy: when the air masks drop from the ceiling, get yourself some oxygen first, then you'll be capable of  helping the ones you love. Make sure you love yourself first, before you ask another to do the same. 

When your dad and I met, neither one of us was looking for "the one”. We were both right in the middle of getting our degrees and the course load was intense. We were so focused on doing something were cared about,  neither one of us was looking outside of ourselves for completion. We just happened to meet up during a break in semesters and started to hang out. And while we were hanging out, we had fun. The best kind of fun: the kind where you laugh so hard your cheeks hurt and tears come to your eyes. The kind of fun you want to last forever. It just felt so good to be together, we wanted to hang out all of the time. And so we did, for 22 years and counting.

Sounds so great you want to go out and find it immediately, right? Well, if you are actively "looking for the one", just knock it off. Call off the search. Searching is not how you find it. Instead, go out and do something that makes you happy.  When you feel great about yourself and are content just being you, the "one" will  magically appear. You will attract another who feels the same way about themselves and that match will be a powerful one. Like two strong magnets. 

Do not underestimate attraction.  You need to be attracted to your mate. If the spark isn't there, it isn't there. You cannot grow a spark, yet it is essential to the formula. Attraction can be an illogical thing, so don't waste your time analyzing it. You can be dating the best looking person you have ever seen or the kindest person on the planet, but something just doesn't click. You don’t feel that chemistry; the pheromones just ain't flowing. On the flip side, the person you are attracted to does not have the physical appearance that society would label as beautiful, but you find you cant stay away from them. Pay attention to these things! They really, really matter. How do you feel when you are around this person? Do you find yourself smiling without knowing it or do you feel a little flicker of annoyance starting in your gut? Just be honest with yourself. Deep down the answer is right there. Does this person do it for me or not? Trust your gut.

You have the wisdom. You just have to be willing to acknowledge it.

A loving relationship feels good. It makes you happy. It makes you smile. When you are truly in love, you will feel like you are going to burst with joy. Yes, I'm telling you, this does happen. It is not a fairy tale.  It is the most amazing feeling and it really does happen

So go forth my dear child. Find out who you are and what you love and when the time is right, the love of your life will appear.

Listen to me. I know.


...and Now