Picture Perfect

With the dreary, wet, anything-but-summer weather outside, cheerfulness comes to me only as a plodding choice.

After a messy, fitful night with a child unable to keep food or fever down, I found myself fixating on the worst case. I fought with worry, arguing about everything as serious (and perhaps far fetched) as febrile seizures and IV fluids to matters as selfish and inconsequential as missing the 10K road race this weekend.

This morning, I woke up to another day of summer rain, with a toddler that required a caravan of blankets, towels and a barf bucket just to travel to the family room. I had mentally prepared for the illness to hit every member of the family and stretch for a week or more.

So, when Sheridan slurped down a Pedia-Pop and asked for more, hope crept in. When she begged for a bagel and ate happily, hope stood up. And when, after four hours, both her breakfast and fevered had disappeared for good, I joined hope in the happy dance.

The idea of spending a whole summer's day indoors, coloring and cuddling, doesn't ordinarily fill me with wild joy. But today, it was cause for celebration. A picture perfect gift.


To read about more gifts discovered in the messy ordinary day, visit Chatting at the Sky for Tuesdays Unwrapped.

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Dear Summer Weather Pattern: Seriously?? REALLY?!

This past week, we gathered for the annual House Staff Lobster Bake. (An event so notoriously hampered by rain that the activities committee is considering renaming it: "Seriously. Our One Sanctioned Afternoon Away From the Hospital and Not Even An Ounce of Sunshine. Really?? Seriously!!")

We did fare better than the lobster, so really (seriously!!), who can complain? Not these two, I'll tell you!

Caed decided he loves lobster after all:

And playing in the rain didn't dampen their spirits one drop:

Thankfully, the week bestowed one semi-sunny day upon us. And of course, you know where we went. That's right, straight to "da beeeech!" (Note that Dani knows no other way to say the word "beach" than to take 10 full seconds and span an entire octave).

When we first arrived, the fog was pretty thick. I optimistically applied sunscreen and told Caed we'd have to hope that the sun burned through the fog.

To which he inquired, "Are the sun and the fog having a battle?"

"Yes, something like that," I humored his need to relate everything back to an archetypal struggle between good and evil, or just to Star Wars. (He gets the award here for knowing the most one possibly can about a movie one's never even seen).

"Oh boy, I t'ink the sun's gonna win! Cuz I know how the sun gets rid of the fog. Do you know, Mommy? Well, it uses its sunny pokers and blasts the fog like pow, pow pow!" (Commence sun-gun hand motions).

All it took was Caed's vote of confidence, because within the hour, the sun gun had wiped out the fog.





Today it rained yet again. (Seriously?? REALLY!?) It seems we're allowed only small doses of sunshine at a time, and we apparently used up our weekly allotment of 15 minutes in one day.

So this morning when we woke up to another wet day, Caed had finally had enough. And I quote:
"Oh no, not rain! I don't want rain. I want a big storm of SUNNY!"

And once again, I must wholeheartedly agree with the four year old...

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Stories in My Pocket: Stricken (Part 7)


To catch up from the beginning: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6

It is never said we are grief-nudged, or grief-touched. Grief does not whisper or tap our shoulders. It strikes as a baseball bat to the gut, and suddenly we are on the ground, so disoriented we gasp for sight and blink for air.

Grief deals only doubling-over blows.

"Becky." It was not a question, but recognition, when he answered the ringing on an early Saturday evening.
He listened, then doubled over, stricken, hand clutching forehead. He straightened, eyes speaking horror as they met mine, and again, he doubled over.
"We're coming." And he hung up the phone.

It sounded like shouting, but he might have whispered it.
"Rick's dead."

"What?"
I heard but didn't believe.

"Rick's dead," he said again, in rising pitch and wavering voice, as if by speaking it, he had made it real.

We grabbed shoes and keys and possibly a coat, and we wept our way to the hospital.

It was there we saw him--the best friend, the husband, the new father--already gone.

And it was there we saw her--no longer defined by the son she'd just birthed but by the husband she'd just lost--without him.

And it was there that we began the sobbing up and down, a roller coaster of rib cages, exhausted from the labor it took just to breathe. We held onto her until they came to roll him away.

I don't remember sleeping that night, but I do remember waking up to a blurry, suffocating sorrow. I don't remember dressing or driving, but I do remember sitting in the balcony when D.C. Washington sang "Give me Jesus". When he began the last verse, I could no longer hold the weight of my head, and again, the doubling over, shoulders shaking my head into my hands. "When I come to die, when I come to die, when I come to die, give me Jesus. You can have all this world, but give me Jesus."

On the way to Becky's, we stopped for a baker's dozen, predicting even the Boston Creams would go untouched. We knew no one was hungry, but we had to show up with something besides our shocked and swollen selves.

I told Becky about the song I'd heard, about how I 'd cried the whole way through. She wrote it down because Maybe they could sing that song at the service. And could Larry be a pallbearer, and we think the service will be Friday...

"Whatever you need," we kept saying. "Just tell us and we'll do it. Whatever you need..." But there was so little we could actually offer. So Larry chopped some more wood from the tree that was apparently far too big to tackle in a day, and remarked how grateful he was for that one last day with Rick. And I picked up the backyard dog poop, and joked about how I got all the crappy jobs. And we gathered around Becky, and we held Max, and we told stories about Rick that made us smile and cry at the same time. And we knew this was going to hurt for a very long while.

Grief didn't strike me directly. Instead it made me watch as it tortured the people I loved, and that was enough to double me over. I thought this was the most we all could take, and I thought the grief-Giver would pull us upright now that He had our attention. But I was wrong.

Because we were not yet standing straight when suffering assaulted again.


Click here to continue to Part 8.
::

There is more story I must tell before I can talk about hope, and I cannot let myself jump ahead (although I'm quite tempted). But I did find reason to hope again in God's goodness, and I wrote more on that here. So feel free to jump ahead to the hope part.

Photo by Alizadeh100

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Prodigal June

Dear June,
Do you see these boats?
Or how about these? Have you forgotten your beloved fleet? You took the wind from their sails when you left.
You just got up and rained out on all of them, on all of us. We loved you, June. We named drinks after you. We defended you to the tourists and newcomers. We said, "It'll clear soon--this is just so unusual for June--it's never like this...." And you made us look like fools.

If you wanted to leave us, you should have just told us. We would have given you space to find yourself, if only we had some warning. We would have planned sunny vacations far away instead of spending every day at the window, gazing through the raindrops, waiting for your return.

But know this. If you come home, even now, to resume your post in the final hours, we won't be angry. In fact, we'll throw you a party in celebration of your return. (We'll have to do it tastefully though, as there no sense ruffling July's feathers so close to her annual debut. She has been true to us all these years, after all.)

So please, return to your rightful place in summer, and behave again like the June we know and love. All will be forgiven if you just come home.


I'm linking this post up with the "You Capture: Summer" series at I Should Be Folding Laundry.
Since summer has been AWOL thus far in Maine, it's feeling like we'll have to literally hunt down, capture, and bring summer back here kicking and screaming. But alas, perhaps June finally heard my plea. I think I just discovered her trying to sneak in through my window!

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Optimism

This morning Dani refuted the relentless rain to its face. And I quote, "It's not mainin' bouwtide!"
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I definitely need to get me a pair of those rose colored glasses.

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The Age of Exploration

I slowed and squinted in search of the trail head. Reticent to invite the wrath of the snowbirds on account of an accidental trespass, I nearly missed the weathered blue paint pointing to the Cliff Walk.

My plan was just a quick run out and back.


But this was no running trail. Even if my ankles could have handled the jagged terrain, my eyes would never have allowed it. I gawked seaward, looking down only when the ground couldn't be trusted. The low tide tattled on an abandoned lobster trap wedged cliff side in mid-topple. And zealous waves took it upon themselves to punish the rusty cage for its tampering presence.

I curved round a dozen bends of flowering shrubs and happened upon a stony beach where sand hid beneath pebbles, and sofa-sized rocks offered a perch for a different realm of rest.

And I found myself in a place I hadn't been in many, many years--caught up in wonder.

What would appear beyond the next wall of rocks? Would the trail go on beyond this bend, and where was the street from here? And who lived in those grand houses off in the distance? And how far into the sea could I stretch, if I tackled those boulders in low tide?

As a child, I spent countless days exploring the creek bordering my backyard. I followed every trail and charted every crossing, wondering where each turn might lead. (It took years before I realized I'd spent the bulk of my wide-eyed childhood under the spell of a tree-lined drainage easement. But one person's drainage easement is another's Terabithia, right?)

Before long, I grew out of my muddy creek shoes. I stopped wondering and started worrying about keeping life clean and familiar.

I traded exploration for routine, spontaneity for structure. I shied a hundred steps away from unbeaten paths. I treasured safety above discovery.

This predictable, protected plodding is arguably a respectable pace for a parent. But I have embraced it too exclusively, leaving little room for an adventurous race or an exploratory detour.

I have today--this day--only once, and the next is not promised. So be it a muddy creek trail or a pebbled path by the sea, I owe it to myself and to my children to explore.
To step out of the ordinary.
To forsake the familiar.
To wonder what might be beyond the bend, and to uncover the answer.

To return again and again to the age of exploration.

"Twenty years from now, you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn't do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover." - Mark Twain

**********
Even though I'm linking to Jo Lynne's What I Learned This Week series, I can't lay claim to have truly learned to "sail away from the safe harbor" and approach life with a sense of adventure and exploration. I've got the concept top of mind though, so hopefully that counts for something!

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A closer look...

...at the things I will not take for granted.





I'm linking this to Tuesdays Unwrapped, as this series continues to encourage me to be mindful of the treasure that walks in front of me.

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I Will Not Take These Things for Granted

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(Now that I've posted this, I realize how impossible it is to actually SEE the pictures, which was kind of the point. Oops! But, I put this together for hubs on Father's Day--and he DID get to see the pictures in full screen mode, so I s'pose all is not lost!)

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Stories in my Pocket: On Expecting and the Unexpected (Part 6)

For the backstory: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5

He'd been home five weeks when I stole away in the tight-lipped fog. Even the oarsmen slept as I passed the spires of Georgetown high above the river, escaping the city's bustle before it began, en route to meet my three day old niece. There were butterflies in my stomach, and three weeks of life in my womb.

Unaccustomed to an empty beltway, I drove as fast as my heart was beating. Apparently, that was too fast.

"Where are you headed in such a hurry?" the officer asked, rhetorically perhaps, but I gave him my literal reply.

"My sister just had a baby and I'm going to see her. I didn't realize I was speeding."

I got off with a warning.
How ridiculous, I thought, this urge to tell him that I'm going to have a baby too. 

I hugged my sister, held my niece, and heard them cry at different times and for different reasons. I didn't know how to help or what to do to make the crying stop, so I did a load of laundry and changed an inaugural diaper. And I told Robin she was amazing and it was going to be fine. And I wondered if I would be fine too, when my turn came.

I snuck upstairs when the La Leche lady arrived with her ample opinions, enough to ensure my little sis had a lifetime supply of motherguilt. I pulled from the shelf a copy of What to Expect When You're Expecting and devoured the first three chapters while the Lactation Nazi offered "encouragement".

I called my husband and half-whispered into the phone. We'd only had hours of knowing together before I left for Ohio, and I was desperate to talk to the one person on earth who knew my growing secret.


::

Over a month later, he was released from active duty to begin the cerebral battle with the Step I, a licensing exam growing exponentially formidable as his coursework faded further away in memory and time.

"I think I'm gonna head over to Rick's tomorrow and help him tackle that tree. He wants to get most of it into firewood--might be an all day job. I should be studying, but it's one day. And he'd do it for me." 

"Maybe I'll meet you there after work, if you're still there." I was far along enough to have told a few close friends, and Becky was one of them. 

When I arrived, she answered the door wearing PJs and her baby boy. It was a typical day of fussing and fighting sleep for Max, born as many days ago as I was pregnant. And it was a typical day of exhaustion for my friend. We caught up over chicken chili in between bouts of soothing and feeding and turning him every which way in the Bjorn. One thing was clear--Max didn't like his Mama to sit down.

That was the last typical day I remember, before the unexpected came barreling down out of the sunniest sky, drenching us toward the very danger of drowning.

Click here to continue reading Part 7.

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About a Boy

It's official. My baby has graduated.

He completed the arduous curriculum:
1) Sitting still for circle time
2) Filling up a 20 gallon tub with "art" projects
3) Learning enough about insects, butterflies and animals to thoroughly stump his mama with very specific follow up questions.

He was involved in several extracurricular activities:
1) Frequent line leader
2) Drama (both on stage and off)
3) Captain of the Freeze Tag Team
4) President of the Lightning McQueen Fan Club.

His classmates voted him Most Likely to Never Stop Obsessing Over Thomas and his teachers awarded him Most Improved in Using His Words.


And now, my friends, I present to you, my pre-K graduate.

We love you, Buddy. May you never lose your enthusiasm for learning, your sensitivity to the people around you, and your delight in the simple pleasures of everyday. (And just this one time, great job not listening to your mommy, and going on ahead with the growing up.)

We're so proud of you!

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Not Fore! Just One or Two!

"You leave her alone! I know you try to help, but you will only confuse her! I give her the two things she should think about during her swing. More than that, it is just too much. Just too much!" Through her thick French accent, Mary Claire admonished my husband in the sternest golf pro tone her 100 pounds could muster.

She started to walk away, then pirouetted round her pitching wedge and pointed to my well-meaning spouse, "So no talking to her, except to say good job or somezing like zat."

Okay, I thought, smirking at my handsome golfing partner, I'm going to be quoting dear Mary Claire all the live long day. "Remember! No talking! Unless it's to say good jaaah-ahhb!!"

She came over to me once more. "When you are chipping, you must remember these two things..."

I nodded and aligned my stance. Silent hands, weight forward, half swing and...I chipped that bad boy right into the hole! Seriously. ONE SHOT! I believe it's called a hole-in-one, although the fact I was standing only twelve yards away might detract from the sheer awesomeness of my accomplishment. Just a wee bit. Anyway, it was still enough to impress Mary Claire.

"See, see! " she applauded. "You just take one or two things at a time and it comes together. Perfect. Perfect. Just like that!"

While I attribute my golfing triumph more to luck (and ironically, to my husband's contraband advice to adjust my stance) than to Mary Claire's "two things", there is still a good deal of wisdom in her words.

Whether I'm on the green or off the course entirely, I often fall prey to the paralysis of thinking too much. I become easily overwhelmed by my innumerable shortcomings and harmful habits, and I flounder in discouragement, only further impairing my ability to improve.

But, if I focus on one or two areas rather than letting the whole of my inadequacy overwhelm me, I can make progress. While it rarely takes the form of a hole-in-one, the chipping away at the problem areas, stroke by stroke, is effective in moving me toward the person I desire to be.

To use a silly but very real example, I know it annoys my husband to no end when I ask "where ya going?" the moment he shifts his weight on the couch. As pathetic as it is, I've had to employ the vast majority of my brain cells to stop demanding he reveal his intended location at all times.

But here's the heartening part. The more I intentionally focus on one area and succeed (such as keeping my mouth shut when he moseys into the kitchen for a snack), the more that "right way" of doing something sticks and becomes habitual, even second nature. Then I can move on to concentrate on one of the other hundreds thousands of things in my life that need improvement.

So, to paraphrase the great Mary Claire, golf pro extraordinaire, focus on just one or two things at a time and it will come together, stroke by stroke. And that's what works for me!

(At least that's what works for me metaphorically, you know, in life. On the golf course, there might not be anything that works for me.... )

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The Miracle of Loaves and Fish Lobster

Imagination is a beautiful thing. With it, the kids create thoroughly entertaining scenarios in which I simply have to wave my hands and yell "Arrghhh, Matey!" from the comfort of my patio chair.

And off they will go, screaming wildly, running like mad for the swing set that doubles as a battle ship in their Sea of Wonder.

But sometimes, I don't know what to make of Imagination. Like for instance, in this conversation:

C: "My bad thoughts must have worked!"

M: "Whaddaya mean?"

C: "I was thinking that a monster came in and buckled my seat belt before I got in the car. And then my seat belt WAS buckled, so the monster must have done it!"

M: "Really, a monster, huh? You sure it wasn't just your sister?"

C: "Shhhh, when we get out of the car, we have to sneak out quietly, so he doesn't wake up and get mad at us for disturbing the peace."

I definitely liked that part about not disturbing the peace. But I had some reservations about the "bad thoughts must have worked" statement. It sounded a bit like the contrarian counterpart of a theory outlined in The Secret. (I'm not going to link to a book I think is a load of stinky poo, so if you haven't heard of the book, just pretend I didn't refer to it).

Nevertheless, I let the seat-buckling monster live on for ten more minutes while I milked the "be quiet so he doesn't wake up" idea for the rest of the car ride.

But lest I fret about the borderline bad influence Imagination might exert over my generally happy-go-lucky children, I had to worry no more when Caed came to me yesterday with this announcement:

"Me and Dani are p'etending that Jesus is giving us lobster and goldfish and all the things we need to eat! Cuz we didn't have any food. And He can do anything."

Then he added, "But you know, Mom, it's just for p'etend. Cuz for real I don't even like lobster."

Now if only we could work the water-into-wine story into the pretend play, we'd have all the makings for a truly miraculous (albeit imaginary) dinner:

  1. Vintage wine
  2. Lobster (and goldfish to boot)
  3. Quiet kids (you know, because we don't want the monster to wake up and get mad).
Ahh, I can only imagine.

Albert Einstein said, "Logic will take you from A to B. Imagination will take you everywhere."

I interpret that to mean that the seat-buckling monster and lobster-multiplying miracle are indicators that my children will go far in life. Or maybe they'll just go all over the place, kind of like this post.

So where's your imagination taking you these days?

(My imagination is taking me to a warm and sunny June day at the beach. Which, come to think of it, shouldn't be a stretch of the imagination! And yet it's looking more likely that my faucets will spontaneously spray Cabernet than this rain will go away!)

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Stories in my Pocket: The Halting of Spring (Part 5)

To read from the beginning: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4

Yellow daffodils edged through the Virginian soil that March, assuming their traditional spring post in the shadow of the cherry blossoms. They hadn't imagined, let alone prepared for the cold flakes now falling, ending beginnings.


I waited in the car watching the snow water the windshield. It fell soft in the sky, laid heavy on the ground. The weight of what was happening hadn't hit me. It was surreal, still floating softly in the air.

He came back to the car with his "just one last time before I go" bag of Five Guys.
He had 24 hours to report in for active duty. There would be paperwork, briefings, orders and deployment. They told us he'd be gone by next week.

I helped with the details of putting life on hold--applying for a deferment for medical school and canceling the USMLE Step I that he was scheduled to take in just three days.

Hello, Limbo. It looks like you'll be staying a while.

People told him he could claim "hardship" to avoid deployment--to argue that he was halfway through med school and couldn't afford to take a break. But he was no stranger to hardship, and he welcomed his old companion as an inspiring guest rather than an intruding obstacle.

The war shifted rapidly in those first few months, and so did the plans for his deployment. I went to work each day not knowing if it would be the "any day" that he would board a plane to the desert. When the day finally came, I was almost relieved. I wanted it to start so it could be over. Like a child waiting for a shot, the dread of how much it might hurt was almost as traumatic as the shot itself. Almost.

Summer came, and he left.
And I wilted under the heaviness and cold.

Left behind to simulate life without my husband, I crashed into the emptiness of his absence. Everything was on hold. Med school, starting a family, our relationship. It took losing him for six months--and possibly forever--to reveal how horribly wrong my priorities had been. I had invested heavily in my work at the expense of my marriage. And now, I couldn't even move forward with an attempt to salvage the relationship I had squandered.

I remember those lonely months of limbo in surprising detail. Two dear friends were both expecting, due just days apart, and we gathered each week together as their babies and heartburn grew. My sweet neighbors fed me, invited me to share in their moving forward, scolded me for coming home too late from work.

I went to a service, remembering 9/11. I stood up, tears streaming, when they honored those still alive to serve and the ones who missed them.

A hurricane hit. A one hundred year old tree fell next door and rang the doorbell (a polite tree with good upbringing, indeed), and my basement flooded after a week without sunshine or electricity. My pregnant sister visited, her husband deployed as well, and we mulled cider to share with the neighborhood grown-ups on Halloween, then sat on the stoop polishing off cheesecake.

December finally came, bringing the war veteran home to little fanfare, his wife alone waiting at 3 a.m. in an empty airport.

Just hours before his plane touched down, a son was placed in the arms of his best friend. And just hours after, a fragile hope was born to the both of us. Life could begin again. Or so we hoped.

Click here to continue reading Part 6.

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The point is...hmm...there might not be one...

I found this little doozie of a post in my drafts folder. It's possible it's been there since 1991, back when I was using the beta version of Blogger, and Al and I were still trying to work out the kinks on the whole world wide web initiative.  The point is, it's pretty old. 

(Isn't it annoying how I always have to say "the point is" after I've already wasted a few sentences of your time? I mean, why don't I just LEAD with what the point is and spare us all?)

ANYWAY.

I've been wanting to do a little de-lurking exercise here, since I've added a handful of readers besides my Mom and the occasional sibling. And perhaps it's the nature of blogging, but I'm feeling a tad bit noisy. Like I do ALL the talking. And so you naturally know more about me than you ever wanted to know. And I know very little, or perhaps nothing about you. It's kind of like I'm the rude talky drunk at the party, and you're the sober person across the room watching the unintended "entertainment" and not saying a word.

So, my point is (I did it AGAIN), I'd like to hear a bit more from you. So (and here's where the old post comes in), I came up with a little ice breaker for us to play, inspired entirely by my immediate environment.

I present to you: 

What kind of kitchen appliance are you?
1) A slow cooker.  It takes a while for me to warm up, but I'm worth it in the end.
2) A blender. Because I'm always mixin' things up.
3) A pressure-brew coffee maker. Because I work well under pressure, especially when coffee beans are involved.
4) An oven. Well, the first thing is, I'm H-O-T-hot, but I also delight in flippin' out the dishwasher people about whether they turned me off or not. (Better check!!!)
5) An old toaster. I might be a bit uneven now and then, but I'm the one you can't live without.
6) A microwave. Because I don't have time for this stupid quiz right now, okay??
7) A dishwasher. Must clean! (OCD) Must sanitize! (OCD) Must organize! (OCD) Must empty! (OCD) Must check the oven to make sure I turned it off...
8) A panini maker. Smash and burn, baby. (I'm prone to violence)

So here's your assignment. Tell me which kitchen appliance(s) you most identify with, or make up your own.  Or, just say hi and tell me something about you I don't know.  And if I already know you superfragicalistacally well, and you don't feel like adorning a kitchen appliance label, then just say hi and tell me what you had for breakfast or something.  (I know, Mom, you do that anyway, but today is the day you can post it on the blog and blame it on me for asking.)

So the (kitchen) floor is yours. Take it away, my friends!

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Beach Going (With Diapers Showing and Laundry Growing)


The weather man predicted one day of sunshine for our weekday: TODAY.  There was no choice.  Ready or not, we needed to hit the beach.

I coaxed a few of our friends to join us for a picnic lunch. (I must be very persuasive, because even Kate agreed to abandon her laundry for another day to join us). 

"Don't worry about all the gear," I said to one friend. "We're just going to sit at the picnic tables for lunch and maybe play in the sand. I'm not even putting the kids in suits.  I mean, the water's still way too cold...."

Famous. Last. Words. 
The water was so cold and the kids were so bold that by the time we got their soaking selves back to the car, Caed announced, "Wow, we're shrivelin' so much!" (I think the word he was looking for was shivering, but a little more time in the water and they might have shriveled too.)

Dani started the morning with a lovely Cape Cod look.

Lovely, that is, until she got knocked down in the surf and I had to resort to the random change of clothes in the car. I KNOW.  Classy, right? I'm afraid it might be her signature look. Something we like to call "kids being kids and moms trying not to worry about all the places sand might be discovered hours later..."
And check out this sweet picture of Caed before he put his "WHOLE self in the water ALL THE WAY!"

But by far my favorite moment captured today was this leap toward the ocean: 

Feet separated from their shadow, he was literally walking on air. Now tell me that doesn't beat the heck out of doing laundry!

As we pulled away from the beach a little past noon, Caed piped up, "Thank you SO MUCH for a fun day, Mom." 

"It's not over yet, Bud."

"I know, but it was so good already that I just had to say it."

Amen to that, Little Man. AMEN.

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I'm linking up again with Emily for Tuesdays Unwrapped. I can't help but love this series, as it continues to encourage me to make the choices I know I won't regret--like letting the laundry go a little longer to enjoy a fleeting sunny day with the kids....

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Sunlight on the Coast


Sunlight on the Coast - Winslow Homer

Longfellow penned poems under the shadow of the Portland Head Light, and Homer brushed oil across canvas beside the rocky shores of Prouts Neck.  I need offer no further proof of the inspirational spell Maine casts upon its inhabitants. 

My Sheridan hangs perilously from the monkey bars beneath the same lighthouse shadow, grinning and unaware that she is not five, but two.  My Caed charges eagerly ahead along the cliffs of the Cape, spotting a hundred times the very ocean Homer painted and never growing tired of announcing its presence.

My feet run, then jog, until ankles reject altogether the training pace along jagged rock.  And I linger lazy on the Cliff Walk, held still in the crashing beauty. The air twists my bangs, and the gulls share only the scent of their breakfast.

This may be our last summer in Maine.  Or it may be one of many. It doesn't matter which

Because like my four year old, I see the rocky shore a hundred times and each time my breath disappears for a moment to announce it. Like my two year old, I swing in the shadow of history and feel braver than my capabilities. And because even as I run, I'm halted to rest smack in the middle of the moment, alive and all there. 

On this landscape for me is blooming not the inspiration of painting or poetry, but of a million contented moments. Each minute mine but once, the uncertainty of tomorrow offers only further encouragement toward the deepest enjoyment of today.

So wherever we are, and for now it is Maine, we will be all there, basking in the sunlight on the coast.

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Stories in my Pocket: This Wasn't The Plan (Part 4)


Click here to catch up: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3.

"So, did you travel much in your previous job?" my new manager queried as engines revved and attendants glanced evil-eyed at tray tables and seat backs not yet in their locked and upright positions.

"No, not much." I averted eye contact hoping Tamara wouldn't follow up.  My work history was not a subject I wanted to dwell on.  In fact, I would have been glad to strike the last four months from my employment record. I was still in shock they even offered me this job.

I had arrived late for the interview. I got dreadfully lost, excusable perhaps in Boston or DC. But this was a Dayton suburb.  Not even Dayton.  A suburb of Dayton.  I was quite certain that would be it for me.

But after five hours of interviews, I landed an offer that very evening to work in the consulting division for a prestigious Big Six accounting firm.  I was out of my league.  In over my head.  Petrified.

Tamara sipped Chardonnay, her 30s fitting her like designer jeans--rich, sleek, comfortable. I clutched my water, a broad daylight stowaway on a first class flight. When the flight attendant offered hot towels, I peered sideways like an inept P.I., looking for my next cue.  Oh, it's for the hands and face. Good thing I didn't go with my first guess to put it on my lap. 

In retrospect, the Chardonnay would have been a better choice for my nerves, but I didn't have the sophistication to speak audibly of a French grape, let alone to drink it.

I was on guard the entire week, and not the kind that meant I was on my best behavior. It was the kind of guarding that makes you not even remotely you.  I sunk as far back into myself as possible so my heart could pound me senseless in private. 

In those early days, my career and my comfort zone were worlds apart. I was certain I belonged elsewhere. I was far more at ease in the tiny circle I labeled my life than in the square panels of my cubicle.  A pastor's kid who had grown up eating WIC cheese and garden squash, it's no wonder I felt lost in this world of ivy league wine connoisseurs.

Larry and I planned to pay off our school loans, complete P.A. school through the Air Force, and move to Bangladesh. He would care for the sick. I would teach the children in the orphanage. We would serve the poor and do meaningful things. It was our heart's desire. 

But if there is one thing I've learned in my 25 year journey of faith, it's that God never takes my ideas.  Not even the good ones.  I've since abandoned my impertinent suggestion box, but back then, it was teeming with carefully crafted proposals.  

Returning home after my fourth week on the road, I broke down within seconds of walking through the door.  This isn't me, I kept telling Larry. I feel so out of place. And none of the stuff I'm doing makes a difference.  (I might have also complained that the endless amount of Powerpoint slides, the prolific use of acronyms, and the "ization" of perfectly innocent nouns was going to drive me mad.) 

I relied on the promises of God as if they had an expiration date. Surely, He would pour them out in my life before they went sour. I'm waiting.  I'm ready to give it all up to Bangladesh. Come on, God, get me out of here so I can do something meaningful...

I honestly had no idea I was bossing God around, knowing better, shaking my head like He was a teenager that just didn't get it. 

****************

Seven years later, the distinction between me and my career had disappeared. I had grown more comfortable in a conference room than at home. I had work mode and sleep mode and nothing in between. I missed the dinner my husband surprised me with because I didn't mean it when I said I'd be home in a little bit. I posed at the Nasdaq on IPO day. I built a team. I took up golf.  The lines between colleagues and friends blurred until they were one and the same. I had a dozen new stamps in my passport.  But none for Bangladesh.   

I no longer bossed God around, but I no longer waited on His promises. I lived in the shallow end, ankle deep, scraping my feet along the underwater bumps, refusing to get wet, and determined not to drown again in the deep disappointment of my perfectly planned life going unlived.

It had been seven years since my career had taken off with the flight, and all the talk was that I had arrived. I was whittling through email on a brisk Saturday morning, Misha's coffee in hand, when the first wake up call rang shrill.

"Ma'am, it's imperative I speak to Tech Sgt. Myles. He needs to call us back immediately."

Click here to continue reading Part 5.

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The Ties (or double velcro straps in this case) That Bind


This morning, Dani and I went shoe shopping.  We didn't find a pair that fit.  (She apparently has a "wide in-step" which is just a politically correct phrase the shoe salesmen substitute for fat little feet.)

While we left the store empty handed, the morning was anything but a waste.  I picked her up as we headed back to the car, kissed her cheek and said, "I had such a good time, didn't you, Dani?"  She just smiled.

Then fifteen minutes later, I heard the cutest little voice from the backseat, "I had good time wid Mommy."

I confess that up until today, shoes haven't exactly been a bonding agent between the two of us. We struggle literally every morning when it is time to put shoes on.  She invariably wants to wear her purple rain boots to the beach or her prissy sandals to the playground. I invariably squelch her dreams of being fashionably independent. And so goes the sole wrenching power struggle.

But today, footwear finally brought us together.  

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What I Learned This Week - Backyard Edition

Actually, it's what I learned today, but I'll call it a week since that's in keeping with the series I'm linking to at Musings of a Housewife.  

So here goes.  I learned:
  • That the weeds in my garden and flower beds are pervasive and hardy, and often overshadow the flowers and vegetables, even engulf them.  My takeaway: I've got to battle the bad stuff and cultivate the good stuff.  Literally and figuratively.
  • That there are modern day miracles in my backyard.  To be specific, my mint plant survived a Maine winter. I interpret this as a sign from above that it's time to start making Mojitos.
  • That the day has finally come when two are indeed easier than one. Back when my toddler and newborn conspired against me with perfectly opposed sleeping patterns, I wrote this day off as myth. But two years later, I see beyond the sleep deprivation to a whole new world of independent play.  While I weeded today, they rode the "roller coaster" (aka the bronco swing), squealing in feigned fright and genuine glee. They followed with a game of sending dump trucks and soccer balls down the slide. Then came time for the "hot mission" in which they dug their mittens out of the farthest reaches of the mud room, and donned them so they could touch the "pretend hot things like grass and sand."  (So yes, we use our beach toys to play in the snow and our mittens to play in the sand.  Forgive us.  Maine just has us a bit seasonally confused, that's all.  Six months of winter can do that to a person.) 
  • That I rambled in that last paragraph.  The idea was to tell you that Caed and Dani played beautifully together today, and it made me quite happy to see.  Just in case that point got lost somewhere among the mittens in the mud room...
  • That I'm enjoying being home with my kids more than I ever imagined I would.  This is a fun stage, and this was a great day.
And now, I leave you with nine seconds of squealing and yelling.  It seemed a lot cuter earlier.  Now it just seems like two kids screaming on a swing.  Oh well.  I learned that even two kids screaming on a swing can melt my heart and make me smile, especially when they are doing it without my help!
video

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So Darlin' Save the Last Flush For Me...


The toilet gurgled and the toddler giggled. It was the classic soundtrack for mischief.

I stomped up the stairs ready to set the record straight AGAIN about the appropriate use of that fascinating chrome lever.  Flushing is a potty training privilege.  In THIS house, you've got to fill it up to flush it down.  (And by fill it up, I do not mean with wash cloths, toys or toilet paper.  Credit to Sheridan, for prompting me by her past behavior to clarify this particular point.)

But before I opened my mouth, Caed came running out of the bathroom.  "Mom, guess what I did for Dani?  After I went poopy, I let her flush it as a reward.  Because I just know how she loves flushing toilets!"

"Wasn't that kind of me, Mom?  Wasn't it!?"

I've got to hand it to that kid.  This may be the only context in which I could possibly dole out kindness and generosity points for bequeathing floaties to someone else.

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