Wednesday, August 26, 2015

My Work is Never Done

I am so excited to join our guest poster, the lovely Noelle,  in announcing the release of her book, One Slender Thread! I had the honor of reading an early draft, and was able to write the foreword for this beautiful book!. One Slender Thread is available for purchase on Amazon today! Go check it out!

And now, please join me in welcoming Noelle back to the blog today, as she shares words that many of us have been aching to hear.

~:~

It was noon and I was still in my pj's, which happened to be my running shorts and t-shirt that I never found the time to change out of from the previous day. I was rallying the kids for our weekly (daily??) room tidying and laundry sorting, hanging up endless piles of clean clothes, folding blankets, re-stacking books and toys on their proper shelves. After half an hour upstairs, we made our way back downstairs, where a sink of dishes and a full dishwasher blinking "Clean" awaited me. Again, I rallied the kids to pickup their toys and help sort silverware, as I scrubbed through piles of pots and pans and got the kitchen back to a useable state. After vacuuming breakfast crumbs, we were finally through our morning chores and ready to spend some time playing in the backyard together.

We played hard for an hour or more, until shoes were muddy, hair was sweaty and bellies were hungry. Making our way back inside for lunch, the kids took quick showers while I got our meal ready. Fed and cleaned - just two hours since our morning chores had been completed - I found myself with a sink full of dishes, a bathroom full of dirty clothes and a floor scattered with mud and grass, again. 

















If you've read any other pieces I have written, it will probably be no surprise to you that I am rather addicted to making lists. As I type, I can look to the left and see a sticky note with book titles scrawled all over it in a variety of inks, a running reading list stuck to the bottom of my computer screen. To the right is a list I made last Fall of activities that are truly refreshing to me, a self-care list that I force myself to check in with from time-to-time. Front and center is my never-ending to-do list, currently filling a notebook piece of paper full of pink ink and lots of boxes awaiting their checkmarks of completion. 

The morning I described above is typical of 90% of our mornings around here - a mixture of play and chores, and constantly cycling through laundry and dishes and vacuuming. I would assume some form of this cycle is typical of 90% of other families as well. It is the nature of life and living, of caring for ourselves and our families. 

And yet, as my husband and I were plowing through yet another to-do list in preparation for out-of-town guests last weekend, a subtle reality dawned on me: I realized that I am constantly working toward a completed list, a life with all the boxes checked...a life which, by definition, does not exist. I realized that so much of my stress is falling into bed at night, exhausted from a day of doing, frustrated that I still have so much to do the next day. I think to myself, "When am I ever going to get all of this done?!" I focus on completion exclusively. 

But, finally, this reality dawned on me: How can all the boxes always be checked off if life is still happening? Isn't life all wrapped up in the adventuring and the vacuuming, the cuddling and the cleaning? Won't every single chore cycle back, again and again and again, as long as I have life and breath? And isn't this good?

Brene Brown says in her book, Daring Greatly"Perfectionism is self-destructive simply because perfection doesn't exist." I have said this very thing, seen it and meant it fully. And yet the truth of it continues to sink further and further into the depths of my life. The truth that life is cyclical, it is not a row of checked boxes. The truth that life is both work and wonder, both effort and enjoyment. The truth that having to wash dishes again tomorrow does not make me a failure or mean that I didn't get enough done today - it simply means that I am alive. 

I don't know about you, friend, but I need reminded of these truths constantly. I need to know that even though the laundry will need done again tomorrow and that dinner will need cooked again tonight and that the floor will be filled with crumbs after every single meal - that incompletion does not equal insufficiency. That the cycle of chores that fills so much of my days can be a source of joy and celebration, rather than a source of constant stress, if I will just see the life behind it. If I will just see the gift of getting to live each and every part of this journey, chores and all.

~:~

For more from Noelle, check out these recent posts:

May We Be People That Hear

Learning to Believe in Good Again


Friday, August 21, 2015

Scandal

Today I let myself get sucked into the Ashley Madison hacking scandal. I clicked on a link that led me straight to a list of people in my area who were subscribers of the cheating site for married people. I tried to stop reading, but I couldn't make myself.

I really didn't know how I'd feel if I ran across someone I knew on the list.

It didn't take long to find out, for I saw name after name that was familiar to me.

How did I feel?


  • I felt sick that cheating on one's spouse is as simple as signing up on a website. 

  • I felt sick about the sheer number of people on the list, and the pain and betrayal represented.

  • I felt sick that I was potentially seeing this highly personal information before the spouses and children did.

  • And I felt sick that I had let my curiosity lead me down a path where I didn't belong. 

It's easy to say that those on the site literally SIGNED UP FOR this kind of scrutiny and judgment by giving their names, emails, and credit card numbers to a website with the tagline is "Life is Short. Have an Affair," but instead of focusing on their behavior, I felt convicted by mine.

I felt complicit in the pain that unsuspecting spouses are experiencing right now, or will be in the next few days. There is much discussion of karma, and about those who stray getting what they deserve. I understand that. As a straight-laced rule follower, the thought appeals to me. I am a seeker of LIGHT and TRUTH and believe that secrets that remain hidden do nothing but fester and rot. Because of this, I think good will come out of the scandal.

What doesn't appeal to me is the pain of the wronged spouses being compounded by the fact that this has aired in a public forum where friends and neighbors whom you bump into in the produce aisle can peer inside your marriage. Gracious. Life is hard enough as it is.

Here's a blog post that touched me today as I thought of the families who are or will be dealing with fall-out from the Ashley Madison scandal. There is not a one-size-fits-all response to infidelity, and I don't claim to have any advice, but I wanted to say if today has been a particularly, epically, publicly, brutal one for you, I am so sorry.

And as for my need to scour the list for names I knew, THIS is what was playing on a loop in my mind as I did it. I just wish I'd listened more closely:

"And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise."

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Charlie Update




So how has our adjustment to becoming a 2 dog family been?

Great! Charlie just reached six months old, and we have been having a blast.

At first it was weird, because we didn't know his personality very well. It reminded me of when I brought my babies home from the hospital and it took me a while to to figure out what made them tick. I just spent day after day snuggling Charlie on my lap in the kitchen, hoping the close contact would help him feel at home.

And I wasn't sure how to read his adorably grumpy face. I mean look at this picture with two of his siblings.

Ha Ha! 100% grumpy; 100% adorable!

Potty training went smoothly (a big thank you to those of you who told me to quit using the pee pads!), and he is learning his boundaries in the house and yard. He stays in a crate in the kitchen if I have to go out for a few hours, and because of his great love of food, it is EASY to get him to go in it.

He sleeps either in Margaret's bed at night or on a dog bed with Shadow in our bedroom. I think Shadow helped Charlie adjust in every way, so there was never a night of lonesome crying-- just a big fur snugglefest.

Bathroom privacy is non-existent now, and I'm getting used to stepping over the two of them spooning on the bathmat each time I get out of the shower.  Charlie is very playful, and initiates a lot of tug-of-war with Shadow when she will oblige. He also sits on her head and tugs on her neck, inviting her to play. If she won't play, he just chases his own tail.

They also like to run after tennis balls and bask in the sunshine.



Yesterday, Charlie got neutered, so we are tasked with keeping him fairly inactive for the next ten days. That's not going to be easy, but at least he's not one to ever turn down an opportunity to take it easy and sit on a lap.


I'm so glad there was room in our hearts (and on our laps!) for another dog.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

August is the Sunday of Summer


I've been hearing this sentiment crop up all over as summer enters its final stretch. These days Margaret is deep into field hockey practice for high school (gulp) and I'm in limbo-land before the paperback of Rare Bird comes out.

Some attribute this quotation to Ellen Degeneres because of a recent tweet, but not in our house!

You see, Jack made this statement at least 5 years ago, and I blogged about it and other random things the kids were talking about, including Margaret's antipathy for things that started with the letter C.  Note: In posts pre-accident, I referred to Jack as Jake and Margaret as Molly.

Check out that old post to get a glimpse of our family's life.

I hope you are having a great Sunday of the Summer!

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

A Light Unto My Path

On the last night of our camping trip, Margaret had an upset stomach.

Long after everyone else was settled in tents, she and I made four long trips to the latrine in the dark. A narrow path was cut through weeds and wildflowers that stood 4 feet tall on either side of us. From dusk until bedtime, my brother lit the path with tiki torches, but in the middle of the night, there was nothing but darkness. I clutched a small camping lantern, the same one my father and stepmother had brought over the night of Jack's accident to join the flashlights and candles in our darkened house.

The path was as long as a football field, and the sounds of insects and frogs almost deafening in the absence of any other sound. I knew that snakes and other critters were not uncommon in the West Virginia wilderness, and I told myself, "Don't think about bears!"

I clutched Margaret's hand and raised the small plastic lantern toward the sky. Nothing. It couldn't make a dent in the darkness. Finally, I got the hang of shining it directly at our feet so that we wouldn't trip or stumble, even though everywhere else was nothing but black. We made our trips to the latrine and eventually settled into the front seats of our car for fitful sleep while a thunderstorm drenched the campsite.

I knew Margaret was in no shape to philosophize with me on the path that night, but I was struck that the surest way for us to get where we were going was to look no further than the one step in front of us. To keep looking any further than that (which I tried several more times) meant being engulfed by the dark, and possibly losing our footing.

In life, in writing, in grief, sometimes I want the big picture illuminated for me. I am a planner. I want to know where I'll be emotionally, spiritually, and career-wise a few years down the road. I want to ensure that my daughter will have a good adulthood despite the blows of a difficult childhood. I wonder, will our Thanksgiving table in 10 years somehow be rich in love and people despite our tiny family? But I can't see any of that yet, and I guess I don't really need to.

What I need is enough light for TODAY. For just the next right step. For me that comes in trusting that the darkness won't swallow me up, choosing hope again and again, being open to possibilities as they arise, and, of course, drinking lots of hot tea.

What light do you need today?

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Paperback News!

Guess what? Rare Bird is coming out in paperback on Sept 8!

That day is the four year crapiversary of Jack's death. No, the publisher didn't know or plan it that way, but these "coincidences" have ceased to surprise me.

I am honored to have both a hardcover and paperback of the book, and I hope this new release will get my account of raw, early grief in the hands of many more people who could get something out of it.

An exciting development is that there will be a brand new cover! Turns out sometimes a new cover translates better into paperback.

Here is the original hardcover. I loved the book jacket's orange accents and the image of 2 kids who looked exactly like mine. If you want the amazing story behind where we found the image for the hardcover, look here.



Here's the paperback:

I love it! I think it will look terrific on a glossy paperback. The only thing I think is missing is that cool subtle feather graphic that's under the title of the original.

The year since Rare Bird came out has been one of quiet growth for me. I spoke to book clubs, church groups, and met with people one on one to talk about the book and about life. The largest group was nearly 400 as I stood at the pulpit of my home church 3 years to the day from when I spoke there at Jack's funeral. I could feel the love and support in that room, and I'm grateful to each person who came.

Other get togethers took place in libraries, other church sanctuaries, and office buildings. I was honored to sit and listen at the kitchen table of a couple who had lost their beautiful daughter to suicide just a few months before and who both read Rare Bird when it was first released. One of my favorite book discussions took place inside a packed hair salon with multi generations of women sharing laughter and stories late into the night. Another was when my presence at a book club was bid upon at a charity auction.

The paperback edition has the same content as the hardcover, but it will also have a discussion guide in it that is ideal for book groups or for individual thought and journaling.

I don't know how it happened, but somehow Rare Bird turned out to be about more than just grief, and the year since it was released turned out to be about a lot more than launching a little blue book into the world. To me, it was a year of human connection and my spreading my wings. It helped me remember how much I love speaking to groups even if my voice wavers sometimes and my eyes get moist. It reminded me that there are many, many kinds of loss and that we all have a story to tell.

Thank YOU for being such an important part of my story and for all of your support this past year! For reading the book, for showing up at events, for following the blog, for encouraging me on Facebook (my second home) and for putting the book in the mail to friends and even strangers with the hope that it somehow could make someone else feel less alone.

P.S. The paperback is available for pre-order NOW from all retailers and is an amazing 51% off at Amazon today. That's only $7.42 with free Prime shipping!  I wanted to let you know about that deal as soon as I found out.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Virginia Vacation


We just got back from vacation at our friends' pond house. They have graciously offered it to my extended family for the past few years since we can't quite bring ourselves to go to the Outer Banks of NC without Jack. I also used their home as a writer's retreat when I started Rare Bird. Remember when I broke Tim's car on the way to their house and had to pee in a cup?

My brother and his family couldn't make it, so there were only 5 of us this year. Margaret and I decided to liven things up with theme nights at dinnertime!

Our themes were:
Movie Night
Glow Stick Night
Fiesta
Luau
Game Night

For movie night, we watched Spiderman while eating theater-sized boxes of candy Whoppers, Milk Duds, Skittles, and Starburst.

Glow night meant filling water bottles with glowsticks to make bowling pins, and setting up a mini bowling alley in the dark. The funniest part was when I accidentally pegged Tim in the nuts. Seems no vacation is complete without a little crotch humor or flatulence. Fortunately, we had both.

For fiesta night we used props for a mini photo booth, and did salsa roulette. Tim whipped up different salsas (hot, mild, peach, barbecue sauce, and grape jelly. We spun the salsa wheel to see who could guess the flavors.






We also shook our maracas every time someone said the word hot.

For the luau, we wore leis, and ate seafood and pineapple out on the deck.




For game night, we dusted off Pictionary, one of my all-time favorites.

While out fishing with Margaret, my niece, and Shadow, Tim got stung by a wasp. Although his hand swelled up like crazy, we were glad he was the victim, not one of the girls, because we never would have heard the end of it. Every time they saw a HOUSE FLY after Tim got stung, they freaked the freak out.

(That is one huge hand, Tim!)

One of the craziest parts of the week was when Shadow, seeing Tim paddle away in a kayak without her, went soaring off the dock after him to avoid eternal separation. Fortunately, we were able to lift her into the kayak and she had a great ride. If you have a labrador who just loves, loves, loves her special person, you will have no trouble picturing this scenario.

(A very wet Shadow, hitching a ride with her Alpha dog)


So, we had theme nights, watched a lot of TV, played 4-square, paddle boarded, kayaked, did a puzzle, saw bald eagles, and fished. Oh, and Tim and my sister went running while I slept in.

Boy, I love vacation!

(She was a pro!)

(When I tried to paddle board in a dress, got attacked by horse flies, ran into a branch in the water and fell in)