Five Minute Friday: If I knew I could, I would

I don't know how Lisa-Jo keeps this Five Minute Friday thing going, what--with a brand new baby girl not to mention two active preschool boys in her charge--but I'm glad she does. Because lately, five minutes is about the only time I have to write. Well, if we're being honest, I took 8 minutes today, so whatever. I cheat.

Today's prompt is "If I knew I could, I would..."


If I knew I could, I would
walk across America on my hands,
give up coffee in favor of tea (African Nectar, perhaps),
invent a breed of dog that doesn't shed (or poop for that matter)--but loves children and oceans and tennis balls just like regular dogs do.

If I knew I could, I would
dip my toes in all seven seas,
wear a different hat every day,
run up Cadillac Mountain, reach the top in time for sunrise,
teach a thousand little girls to read,
pull off a whip-back, whip-back, triple twisting layout at the ripe old age of 36.

If I knew I could, I would
take back the volumes of ugly words I hurled at the man I vowed to love,
turn back the hours of time I wasted working like an addict against failure.
I'd spin in circles until I found my center and fell like a heap
of an 8 year old girl, all ruffles and twig legs and auburn french braids,
And I would stop trying so hard to be
or someone else.

If I knew I could,
I would.


What would you do, if you knew you could?


Memories, Rain or Shine

Since I'm not keen on taking pictures of the (or in the) rain, photos from the past two weeks haven't exactly been piling up.

But I do have a few. And I'm going to share them now, before another week goes by. And before Ohio breaks any new rain records. Oh wait--that already happened. Can you say rainiest April in northeast Ohio history?

That ought to teach me not to whine about the rain when April had only begun.  Because April tends to take things a wee bit personally. "Oooh. Them are fightin' words. You call that rain, Lady? I'll show you RAIN!"

Simmer down, April. Sheesh. We get it. You're in charge of showers. And you take your job VERY seriously. 

So, without further adieu, here are a few of the rare April moments we spent sans umbrellas.

Dani is into scaling walls lately.  It's a big help to me when this new passion can be practiced outdoors, as opposed to say, using her new lego table (thanks Grandma!) to climb to the top of her closet to pull down her "summer d'esses", the ones she's begs to wear Every. Single. Day.
And I just had to post this one, because how often does Ohio give us sunshine AND new friends?

Okay, this next picture might have been sans umbrellas, but the truth is, we probably could've used one. Notice the boots and winter coats for the easter egg hunt? Lovely.

The day after the Artic Egg Hunt on Swamp Lawn, the sun actually showed its face, in time for soccer! Dani still can't dribble without giggling. Which is totally fine. I heard Mia Hamm was the same way when she was four.
While his sister's team played, big brother waited on the sidelines and talked strategy with his teammates. Well, not strategy so much as science. I overheard him speculating about our planet's internal temp with a fellow six year old, "Do you know that scientists believe the earth's core is hotter than the sun?"

Good to know that if he can't bend it like Beckham, he's on track to make the high school Mathlete team.

Pig tails and freckled noses. Pause with me here for a moment while I melt into a pile of mush from all the cuteness.

Okay, so forgive me for being one of those parents. But I just have to tell you that when it was Caed's turn to play, he schooled the budding soccer players in more than science. The little guy tore it up out there. But so much more than the goals he scored (more than 15, but who's counting?), his great attitude and sportsmanship made me really proud.  Really, I'm not just saying that. Okay, so maybe his sportsmanship and burgeoning athletic ability were tied in the parental pride category. But can you blame me? One minute I think he's headed for Chess Club and Future Engineers of America, and the next I'm wondering whether he might be playing U14 Premiere at age 11. And you've gotta admit--soccer is way more fun to watch than chess.

Okay, my shallow gushing over sports was a bit embarrassing. But now that my secret is out--that I'm going to have to try ridiculously hard not to live vicariously and compete through my children--I can move on to less incriminating pictures, like these--of Easter at my sister's house.

 This last picture? It makes me a hundred kinds of happy. This is why I can forgive Ohio and April for raining on parades and egg hunts and just about everything that transpired in the last month, because they gave me this picture. Of family, together, and sweet memories, rain or shine.


The Hours are Honest

There is not going to be time for it all, not even close. So I have to choose, and wisely. And the hours are honest. The minutes pile up around the things I care most about.  I cannot truthfully say to myself I am enthralled with literature when my minute piles congregate around watching hockey play-offs while skimming blogs. You know, just as an example.

Of course there are the things I must do--not for the love but the responsibility. The minutes pile around laundry as high as the laundry itself, and that by no means proves I value laundry above all else.

But what do I choose when I have a choice? What do I do with the hour from 5 to 6 a.m., once the coffee is made and the husband is kissed goodbye? What do I do when two glorious hours of freedom greet me on my way out of the preschool door?

I know the answers, and I don't like them.

I used to say, back in the corporate day, that my job was incompatible with who I was, who I wanted to be. I cited the contrast between my heart to serve and love the least of these with my role to manage risk and resources so a soulless company could make money. I promised myself (oh the lies I told myself!) that when that next stage came--perhaps in the leaving work to raise a young family stage--I would read and study and pray and serve and write and live the gospel.

But I have broken that promise.

I'm not saying it's wrong for me to spend several hours a week running or reading fluff or watching T.V or relearning the piano or eating cheetos while tracking brown bears. (Okay, that last one might not be wrong, but it's definitely not wise.)

I'm just saying that the way I spend my life--what I choose when I have a choice--starting with the minutes, followed by the hours, flowing into days, adding up to months and years and lifetime--that this reveals what I truly value.

And I don't want to be 72 years old before I realize there is no such thing as must-see TV, that the people around the table are vastly more important than the ones on the page, that I could run forever and get nowhere.


What do you say you value? Does it match what you do with your "free" time (assuming you have even one drop of it)? What do you choose when you have a choice?


Five Minute Friday: Going the Distance

It's Five Minute Friday over at Lisa-Jo's, time to write freely for 5 minutes, "to just write and not worry about whether it's just right." And I'm playing along this week, but first I feel I should tell you, I totally cheated. I think I wrote for 7 or maybe 9 minutes. I'm not sure exactly, because my five minutes was interrupted no less than five times, and each time I kept coming back to write, I'd lost track of time. (Suuuure. She lost track of time. How conveeeenient.)

Anywhere, cheater status fully admitted, here's my 7-9 Minute Friday, on the prompt "Distance."


You wouldn't believe the lengths I'd go to get two hours of peace, to clear my head and keep company only with my thoughts (and maybe a few of Pink's). I wouldn't have believed it either if you'd told me two years ago I'd be so excited about running a half marathon that I'd train in 30 degree weather and on snow-covered trails like a crazy woman.

(Let's just be clear. I was a crazy woman long before I started distance running. But the running? It definitely adds some crazy to the pot.)

I read somewhere that a surefire way to improve your time is to run more miles, slower.  I found that hard to believe, and still do, in fact. But I've discovered that it really does work. And of course, this has become such a picture for me of everyday life. Slow and steady always gets me farther than fast and frenzied. And when I'm willing to take it slow for the sake of endurance, to train my feet, my heart to go the distance, it's amazing the beauty I notice along the way. Those gorgeous gifts I used to race right by.


Wanna give it a try? Come on, it's fun! You can even cheat and no one will yell at you. At least I don't think they will. I'll get back to you on that.


In search of my proverbial sailboat (and a real one would be nice, too)

I've been wondering for a while about spring, whether it will ever show up and stay for more than one afternoon before it disappears again into frosty night and and freezing rain. But I've stopped wondering, because it's here.

That's not to say it won't be 35 degrees and raining when the kids play soccer on Saturday. (That's exactly what it will be if the weatherman is right.) But it is to say simply that I have weeds in the flower beds, real ones, green ones. It is to say simply that we are all alive and growing once again.

Last night, we rushed through dinner on the promise of outside play. We slipped on sweatshirts and shoes that wouldn't mind the mud, and out we all went. I weeded while the kids raced bikes and shed their sweatshirts. Then in a stroke of brilliance, I tricked them into running laps for 10 minutes. I called it "race training", and boy did my six year old light it up. While Caed pumped arms and heaved lungs, Dani trailed behind (lapped by big brother at least 5 times) giggling the whole way. I'm not sure I've ever seen her run without laughter accompanying her. She is the picture of childhood delight.

This morning, Dani crawled into bed with me. I wrapped my arm around her, and the only thing I could think was that she used to be smaller than the length that her little arm is now. And how that floors me. And softens me. And the softening is particularly helpful considering her whining started the moment my feet hit the floor. Remember that picture of childhood delight I just told you about? Flip that picture over and discover the opposite of delightful. Good morning to you too, Whiny McFussypants.  


Today, I've traded wondering about spring for wondering about rhythm. And how exactly to find it. Between Larry's ridiculously brutal schedule and my unusual list of to dos this month, life feels more akin to jerking through stop-and-go traffic in a Hyundai than gliding over waves in a catamaran.

And all I want (besides spring--which I now have) is to get my proverbial sailboat back.

What do you think? Does a good rhythm for life just happen--in a feeling the music sort of way? Or does hard work matter? I mean--can a good rhythm be forced? Like everything else in life, I'm guessing it's probably somewhere in the middle--a combination of circumstance, an intentional approach and flexible attitude. 

So, in the spirit of exhibiting a flexible attitude, I'm hitting publish on this all-over-the-place post, and heading outside to play with the kids until the sun goes down. (Truth be told. They are going to play. I'm going to clean out the garage. Because I can't possibly get into a good spring rhythm when the garage floor is still caked with sand and salt from the 75 bajillion inches of snow we got this winter.)


When Stumps Become Stages

"Look, Mom! An old tree!"

"Oh I see! What's that called, big girl?"

"A stage!"

Looking with eyes that can turn stumps into stages, I continue to count:

#171 A tiny old stump turned stage

#172 New white sneakers, "with 'parkles!", on sale, now already muddy

#173 Dad's post-shift gift of Boston cremes

#174 Warm breeze through open windows

#175 Burgers sizzling on the grill

#176 Squeals from my two bug hunters

#177 Cousins visit!

#178 Underdogs

#179 How Dani still inadvertently calls underdogs "Sea Dogs", revealing her Portland roots

#180 Dance parties, my darling niece--baby Olivia--raising the roof

#181 Imaginative play in a lego-built parking garage, how she sets up one car to say to the other, "Oh man, you gotta be kiddin' me! Dis traffic is Crazytown!" (And yes, we were just in DC for a week.)

When stumps become stages, when obstacles become opportunities to try a new trail, when traffic delays turn into rest stops, when the broken down ugly becomes a way back to the beautiful grace, what other response do we have than to pray thanks?


Doused in Grace

"Mom, I know you said even grown-ups struggle with making bad choices, just like kids, but it seems like the only bad choice you have to keep saying sorry for is yelling. I mean, it seems like whenever you ask forgiveness it's always for yelling and stuff."

I click on the turning signal, then press down the brake. The soccer field is in sight.

So this must be the downside to having a sensitive and articulate six year old.

"I know, bud. It sure seems that way. I have to apologize more often than anything for my yelling."

"And you hab to say sorry to Calli too, right Mama?" Dani pipes in. "Cuz she's a snorey-yelley-doggy-doggerton."

Caed and I exchange a glance courtesy of the rearview mirror. We shake our heads and smile at Dani's bizarre and disarming contributions to the conversation.

We pile out of the car and pad carefully over the muddy patches to the field where the other blue shirts congregate. Dani dribbles in circles, lost in the moment, cackling as another girl chases. Caed watches, waiting for his turn, his team, then volunteers to be Dani's water boy.

And I want to say I get lost too--just as quickly--in these precious firsts, the soccer they've begged to play for two summers and counting. But I don't.

I'm smoldering still, the flames they just forgave not fully doused. I wonder why this anger boils, why I so easily snap.  Why, though I love them so profoundly, do I scorch over shin guard and hair band battles? Why does the whining stoke me so? And really, who is the child here?

It's me. The grown-up child. The one who preaches to my littles on self-control, "like a city without walls!", then loses it (loses it!) not even hours later.

(If you must know, I flung her cleats into the back of her closet and stomped off with a dramatic "That's IT!" Oh yes. I did.)

But I write now, far enough away that the embers are ash. The details blur. I've forgotten what made me so angry and irritated. I can feel my heart soften, breaking the good kind of broken. And when it strikes me that my children and my God are as quick to forgive as I am to anger, gratitude washes in, floods all flame. And all of my hot ugly, every last bit of it, is doused in grace.


In Defense of Ohio

Maybe I was too hard on Ohio in that last post. I was. I think I was.

Ohio offered me an olive branch yesterday. I know we've had our awkward moments in this getting to know each other stage, she said. I know I'm nothing like the others, that change is hard. But come, girl, run on my landscape, climb up my hills, breathe in my spring air. You'll see I'm not so bad.

Why am I quoting Ohio like she's a character in The Giving Tree? I have no idea. But let's just go with it.

So I went on a long run with Ohio. When my music died halfway in, she sent a cardinal to set the pace. I chased the gorgeous scarlet all the way past the meadow. And after my red-feathered friend disappeared into the forest, a red-tailed hawk took over, flying circles around me for a quarter mile. (That one was a bit of a show-off. I get it, dude. You can fly a sub-2 minute mile.) 


The run was exactly what I needed. I thought about how I might not ever be rooted again in anything or anywhere, how I might forever miss that feeling of feeling at home. And then I thought about how I have two feet and two hours and twelve miles of trail, and I have right now, with two birds and two thousand trees and a looping spring soundtrack. And I'll list it twice--I have right now.

I have right now--in Ohio. And I don't need to chop my poor little state down to a stump to see all she has to offer. She offers me right now!

And right now is more than enough. I stretched my legs against the old fence post Ohio offered me, and I admitted. You were right. You aren't so bad. I know I can be happy here.

And the tree Ohio was happy.


The kicking and screaming places

There are the places
you move to for adventure's sake,
where you first circle Dupont
(without ending up in Maryland),
and that make-it-here-make-it-anywhere
feeling slips like a sash
over your shoulder.

There are the places
you go for a change in pace,  in scenery,
like when the kids are little and
you're dying for a backyard
or a short commute--
or both--if you can even imagine.

And then there are the places,
the places you only go
because your story takes you there.
I call these
the kicking and screaming places.

I can't come out and call Ohio
a kicking and screaming place.
It's not (not entirely).
But in comparison, like when I
wake up in Alexandria on vacation
and wonder why it's not home anymore,
and then get excited about going home,
but only because I've momentarily
pictured the wrong house,
the one I moved from months ago,
when I wince disappointed,
well, then it feels--
if only by comparison--
like a kicking and screaming place.

And I wonder when I am ever
going to feel like home is home,
actually, and not just a place where we keep the furniture
and do the laundry,
when I am ever
going to look down at my feet
and see them-
not itching or wriggling
or twitching or kicking every which way-
but stayed,



What We Need Is Here

I have about a dozen blog-worthy stories in the queue, all fodder from last week's "vacation" to the DC area. Back in the day, when I first started blogging, I'd get all hot and bothered if I went a week without charting the "big stuff". I was quite dedicated to chronicling our lives and quoting my children. But right now? Not so much.

I'm too lazy to tell you about the museums we went to, the family and friends we spent time with, the sick and yuck we endured (not related to the family and friends time, I assure you), the cab driver who hit us on the way out of town.  I am also apparently too lazy to take pictures. I just downloaded pictures from our week long trip--all 10 of them--and this is the only postable one.

See? Lazy.

Y'all, I'm tired. April is here, and I know I should be all "spring-is-so-lovely" and "oh-resurrect-my-soul", but all I feel like doing right now is taking a nap.

In other riveting news, I splurged on a new vacuum cleaner. I am embarrassed to admit the delight that washed over me after I'd collected canister of pet hair and various filth in just 10 minutes of vacuuming. Not so much delight in the filth, but in the fact it was no longer lurking in the carpet.

But enough vacuum talk. It's only reinforcing the urge to curl up on the couch and pretend like it's not Monday.

Did you know April is National Poetry Month? It's also Distracted Driving Awareness Month. So you're encouraged to read some great poetry this month--just not while you're driving.

If you don't believe in reading poetry, well, I feel sorry you. Then again, you're probably like, Save it, lady. The highlight of your week was getting a new vacuum cleaner, so really, I don't think you're in any position to be pitying people. Touche, imaginary non-reader of poetry. Touche.

For those of you who do believe in reading poetry, here is a little gift from Wendell Berry.

What We Need Is Here

Geese appear high over us,
pass, and the sky closes. Abandon,
as in love or sleep, holds
them to their way, clear
in the ancient faith: what we need
is here. And we pray, not
for new earth or heaven, but to be
quiet in heart, and in eye,
clear. What we need is here.
-Wendell Berry

I dont' know about you, but after a poem like that, I don't need a nap anymore.

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