Friday, August 22, 2014

Sept 11, 2011

Here's one from a few years ago, about how my ex-boyfriend taught me about just showing up. Well, Chris and his rock-star wife, Cheryl, could use some "showing up" right now. This summer they've moved across the country with their 3 kids, started new jobs, are building a new house, and in the midst of it all Cheryl was diagnosed with breast cancer. She has had surgery and is now undergoing treatment. Will you join me in praying for them? Thank you!

Sunday morning I sit at my desk trying to put into words what kind of kid Jack was. I am hoping to write something worthy enough to be read at his memorial service tomorrow. This desk is where I write my blog, recording the funny things the kids say and detailing my latest thrifty home projects, most of which involve spray paint. It’s been two and a half days since our lives were turned upside down, and I try to be inspiring, honest and positive when all I really want is to turn back the clock.
Beside me is Chris, my high school friend and college boyfriend. He has dropped everything, and with the blessing of his wife and three kids, has flown in from Wisconsin to be by our sides. “I’ll do anything,” he says. “Clean the gutters, take care of Shadow. Read at the funeral. Anything.” He has learned a lot about grief since his best friend dropped dead at 40. He has learned about showing up. So this is what he does, shows up and sits next to me as I try to describe my boy.

Chris and I were dating when my mom died. I had flown back to Virginia from attending a dance with him in Colorado, and the next day my mother died while I held her hand. I had to call Chris and tell him. When he said he’d fly home to be with me, I told him to stay to take part in a wedding where he was a groomsman. I said it, and I meant it, sort of. This was long before I had heard the term “passive-aggressive,” but on the day of the funeral, I really wish I’d asked him to be there. I didn’t know I’d need him, but I did. So now, even though we’ve seen each other only a handful of times in the past 20 years, he sits next to me, and I run different phrases by him.

After a while he says, “Um, Anna, I feel like you are glaring at me like I did something wrong and you want to murder me.” He’s treading lightly, but he’s brave and says it anyway. And he’s right. “I’m glaring because I’m so damn mad that Jack is dead! But I’m not mad at you.” And he’s cool with that, and calmly suggests that maybe I glare at a point on the wall slightly above his head from here on out, and we both know he’s the perfect person to be with me right now.

I get something down that captures a little slice of Jack’s home life, and hopefully gives comfort to those who will be at the service. I describe Jack’s interests, his homebody personality, his humor.  I don’t know how to capture his humble nature, his generosity of spirit, his laughter, or the way his world became our world. Chris says, “I know you aren’t sure you can read this. And people will say you don’t have to, because they want to protect you. But I know you can do it and I think you should.” He’s right. I mean what the hell do I need protecting from at this point? I want to be the one speaking for Jack. I am his mother. So I will.

I look at Chris and think of the sacrifice he made just to show up for us. I don't know if I'd have the guts to do that for a friend separated by such time and distance. I think of his wife and kids who are juggling so many things at home so he can be here. I realize I have something to learn from Chris today.
And I inwardly make a note to myself to share with Margaret that it’s certainly a lot easier for exes to show up for each other in times of crisis if they’ve never slept together.

Friday, August 15, 2014

The 6 Stages of Food Storage Container Ownership:


1)      Confidence and Grandiosity: My containers match! They are new!  I have a container zone and a lid zone. Any items that do not speak to me with their usefulness and beauty will land on the donation pile. The streamlined organization I now see reflects the order and contentment of my life. There is nothing I can’t do! I will savor my time with them, and keep them in their unsullied state. Jaunty shelf liner adds to my general awesomeness!

2)  Enjoyment: As I drift to sleep this first night, I know I have a kick-ass cabinet full of containers to meet all of my food storage needs. Bonus points: Pretty Colors! Extra Extra Credit: Labels!

3) Reality, Confusion, and Bargaining: So maybe I don’t have time to stack the bottoms in concentric circles every time. Sure, I throw them in, slam the door, and hope for the best, but every container has a mate. Of this I am sure. Gah! Lids have started rolling to the black hole in the back. Perhaps I must adjust my plan. I PROMISE to store each container with its lid on. Sure it takes up more space, but never again shall they part.

4) Denial: I do not recognize anything in this cabinet! Are kids stealing my stuff? Who has replaced my beautiful containers with one corn nib, a kit for making homemade popsicles, a sesame noodles container from Whole Foods, and a black Lean Cuisine tray? This is NOT MY CABINET. THIS IS NOT A THING OF BEAUTY! All I want to do is put my crappy food away, so it can be rejected again tomorrow.

5) Despair:   If one more plastic thing falls on me when I open this door, I will torch this crap. You say the fumes are bad for me? Whatevs.

6) Acceptance: Today the dishwasher melted my last perfectly sized container. The only ones left will hold either a full-sized lasagna or a grape. All matchmaking attempts have failed and my unpartnered pile has grown in size but shrunk in usefulness. I will breathe through my frustration. I will acknowledge that organized storage containers are not part of my life. That Nothing Gold can Stay. I will use tin foil as a cover. And perhaps someday soon, I will dream of the future and Google plastic-ware with attached lids.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Heart Issues

Four year old Margaret started to cry in her booster seat. I looked in the rear view mirror. “What’s the matter?” I figured a tag was poking her, her socks weren't "just right," or she was hungry. With a defeated, gaspy cry, she answered, “Sometimes…sometimes I just have a hard time loving Jesus.” Woah. This was not even close to anything I expected to hear.

I had no immediate answer for her, so I turned it over to Jack, in the “way back” of the minivan. I didn’t know if he’d been listening, but I said, “Jack, is there anything you could say to Margaret?” I was used to his surprising us with wisdom and a near-adult understanding of issues. Maybe he had learned something in school that would give her comfort. I don’t know, but I knew I had nothing.

He responded quickly, “Well, I always knew that about you, Margaret…” Uh oh. Not what I’d been hoping for. Little boy Jack doled out judgment, not comfort, giving his sister the absolute last thing she needed. Maybe Margaret didn’t seem as devout as he did at all of six years old. Maybe he’d seen her do one too many shimmy dances  and donkey kicks during nightly prayers. Who knows? But in that instant, I saw in Jack’s response the response of so many people, the assumption that he could see into someone else’s heart.

I redirected the conversation, but not before saying, “You know what, Margaret?  Sometimes I have a hard time loving Jesus, too. I can’t see Him. It’s hard to love someone I can’t touch and feel.” I was 31 years older than Margaret, but in that moment, in her vulnerability, I knew she spoke a truth shared by me and by many.

And Jack’s reaction, although shocking at the time, reminds me of how often we judge, thinking we have a window into each other’s hearts. Thinking it’s our place to determine how devoted someone else is, rather than focusing on our own heart condition.  It's uncharitable, and unbiblical, “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s (4 year old sister's) eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?
I suppose, perhaps, that people think I have a strong faith. But just last week I had a really hard time loving Jesus. I begged Him to help make an impossible situation better, but it felt like I was speaking into the darkness. I told Him I trusted Him, but it was just so hard and scary. Much of what was going on felt far too close to almost 3 years ago when our world came crashing down, when our prayers weren't answered in the way we wanted.
And yet He came through. Man, did He come through, in powerful and miraculous ways! But what I've learned, and am still learning, is that He somehow comes through even when things don't turn out the way we want. Even when we are neglecting to address the planks in our eyes. And even when we have a hard time loving Him.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Lowering the Bar (Cart) One Day at a Time

A couple months a go I found the skeeviest, stickiest, ricketiest cart imaginable at the thrift store for $5. Still haunted by a beautiful brass and glass cart that got away during my early days of thrifting, I snatched it up before any other lunatic could get her hands on its faux-everything awesomeness.

I quickly went to work scrubbing it down. Before long, I'd spray painted the wheel covers, the trim, and the cool woven sides a subtle gold. Gorgeous!

Next, I applied two coats of chalk paint in a creamy white to the shelves and the sides. All was right in the world until I woke up the next morning to this on both sides:

Ugh. Yes, I knew there was sticky residue there. Yes, I know I should have cleaned it off with something stronger than Dawn, but hello, if that stuff gets grunge off of a duck's feathers in an oil slick, I thought it was adequate for this situation.

It seems like a previous owner must have applied contact paper to the particle board sides at some point. After pulling it off and finding the sticky sides were collecting all manner of dust, debris, flora and fauna, the owner likely pitched it on the donation pile.

The paint was so peel-y I'm sure it would come off easily. A little sanding? No big deal. I probably could have done it with my fingernails. Except I was SO OVER IT by this point. Every time I sat down to watch HGTV and its numerous home makeovers involving glass tile, "open concept living spaces" and "man caves," the bar cart taunted me, nearly blocking the path of my remote.

Contact paper? I mean, who does that?

Oh yeah. My mom.

I know I've told you the story of how no sooner had our brand new white fridge been delivered in the mid-80's, than my mother covered it with a faux bamboo contact paper. A year or two later she "updated" it with a wooden plank contact paper design. VERY realistic.

Mom knew that she just couldn't look at that bright white fridge surrounded by our lovely dark brown (!) appliances ONE. MORE. MINUTE. She was a take-charge kind of person who didn't over think things. Case in point, which you may recall: When she wanted to paint the wainscoting in our dining room late one night, and she had no one to help her move the china cabinet, she just painted around it. It stayed that way for 10 years, and no one suspected a thing.

She wanted it done.
She got it done.
And it was good enough.

A sweet teen aged girl came to stay with us for the month of June. Every few days she'd ask me about the cart as it sat in peeling glory on a piece of cardboard in the family room. When was I going to finish it? What were my plans for it? I had no real plans unless it involved the woodpile.

Finally, I rolled its chipping butt into the laundry room and tried to forget about it.

I mean, what did I need with a "bar cart" anyway? Unless you were in Key West with me for spring break 1991, you've mostly likely never seen me consume a mixed drink. So if drinking is not really a big part of my life, why was I so eager to have a little drinks station set up in my living room?

Was it  my obsession with Mad Men? But by last (ugh) season, Don Draper/Dick Whitman's drinking has surely not been something to be celebrated or emulated.

Was it my dear departed mother's Waterford decanters, packed away for decades in basement after basement as we've moved houses? It's not as if they ever had liquor in them anyway. I grew up in a dry household, so my mom (yes, she of contact paper fame) filled the decanters with food coloring to make them look extra k-lassy.

I was close to throwing the cart back in my car and re-donating it (no shame in that, right?) when I got together with our teenage friend this past week. I hadn't seen her since the end of June. "So, how's the bar cart coming along?"

Oh geez. I'm in a funk. I don't feel like sanding or painting. It's already so shoddy that I'd never be able to sell it. It reeks of my failure and shame.

I wanted to have a better answer the next time she inquired about the cart, so I asked myself, "What Would Margaret Whiston do?" Then I drove to Home Depot and inquired as to where they kept the contact paper. I had three choices: Faux Granite in light peach, floral with grapes (!!!), or textured black "leather." I went with the black.

Last night I slapped that stuff up right on top of the peeling paint, bumps and all. I kind of like it, and I kind of hate it.

Tonight, my empty decanters have a place to sit. I also put my mom's brass turtle ash tray there, as a nod to the woman who taught me that sometimes good enough is good enough. At least for a while.

I think that's a mighty good life lesson.

Get 'er done.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Digging Deep in Turkey

We are back from two amazing weeks in Turkey!

I'm talking about a sunrise hot air balloon ride over the astounding rock formations of Cappadocia. Celebrating Margaret's 13th birthday in the resort town of Bodrum. And spending an entire week on a boat cruising the Aegean and the Mediterranean. Throw in an ancient city built entirely underground plus two short days in Istanbul and you start to get the picture of our remarkable experience.

This was no small trip, and our eyes, ears and taste buds had something new to experience every day. I won't soon forget the sound of drums parading through the streets of Istanbul to wake the faithful in time to cook and eat a meal before sunrise during Ramadan. Or platter after platter of fresh, juicy peaches that made my supermarket versions seem like nothing more than mush and fuzz. And the sight of hundreds of majestic mountains coming right down to the edge of a brilliant blue sea.

It was stunning and unforgettable. We loved it.

But vacations are also work. They throw us off a bit with necessary adjustments to our schedules and our habits, as they offer up something we can't get at home. Forgoing my crisp Washington Post and cup of Constant Comment tea each morning was an easy trade for the sights and sounds of Turkey. Putting my ailing shoulders to sleep on airplanes, in shuttle buses, hotel beds and a boat was worth views I'd never seen before nor will likely again.

The adjustments we make in order to travel remind us that we are not wed to the way things usually are, day in and day out. We sacrifice some of our stability to embrace a new experience.

And sometimes these changes are particularly uncomfortable.

I could see this most clearly from my daughter's perspective. A nervous stomach makes 8 plane rides, a 7 hour time difference, and bus trips on windy roads cause for anxiety. New foods and the back and forth motion of a boat (ask me about the dingy ride from hell someday!) are cause for concern.

But every stomach dropping, dry mouthed, clammy-feeling moment was under girded with, "We are in Turkey!" "This is a trip of a lifetime!" Jet lag doesn't last forever!" And photos of happy teen aged girls jumping off the side of a boat on "One, Two, THREE!" will always tell the tale of the summer when we ventured out with our dear friends and experienced a different part of the world. We put our daily lives aside for a while to experience something new.


Our continued discomfort and grief navigating life without Jack makes us feel off kilter too, even at almost three years out. Watching Margaret with our friends' teenage son reminds us of what we used to see each day, two brown heads together, leaning down, laughing. A happy birthday song with sparklers crackling on her cake throws the question into the atmosphere, "Is your older brother still older when you have now turned thirteen?"

And these feelings seem to increase rather than lessen over time. Yes, we can eventually grow accustomed to the rocking of a boat, so much so that by the time we reach shore again, our bed will sway for days afterward. But can we ever wrap our brains around a family of three? Will this ever feel normal? Will I always look at moms at the airport, whether they are heading to Riyadh or Spokane and silently count, one, two, three, sometimes four or five small heads and think, "Good, Mama, good. You won't be leaving one all alone if...if... if something goes horribly wrong."

In traveling on this most unwelcome journey, we face discomfort and change daily because we have no choice. But there is no reward for buckling down. There is no grand pay-off of an incredible vista, precious photograph, or historical site if we just dig deep and move forward.

There is just a life that needs living. So we do it. And there is laughter. Great new memories. Time shared with beautiful, generous friends.

But things are hurting worse right now.

Is it because we just flew halfway around the world, yet Jack's experience of a great vacation was a fountain coke and a Hampton Inn? Is it because we are once again in summer, and the feeling of dread of fall, September, and the accident weighs heavy on us once again?  Or is it because in life, there are discomforts, rearrangements, modifications that are worth it, but this one, which has left every area of our live so very different, will yield fruit, but will never, ever seem worth it to us?

Monday, July 21, 2014

Talking Turkey

We are on a boat in beautiful Turkey. Stunning views, warm water, and delicious food. I'm doing a bunch of reading and even having a little white wine with lunch. Margaret is loving being with kids her own age. I'm not sure she even realizes we are on this trip with her!

 My only complaint is the heat which, Hello... Turkey in July....should not have surprised me! I am wilting a bit.

 We explored an early church in an underground city which was amazing-- tunnel after tunnel after tunnel. We also floated high above valleys rock formations in a hot air balloon. 

Here is our latest meal:

Not too shabby, huh? and that's just LUNCH.

And here we are in a salt lake, followed by a sunrise view from the basket of our balloon.. 

We are tying blue ribbons in honor of Jack along the way.

Some days have felt a bit like Planes, Trains, and Automobiles (plus boats!) because we are covering a lot of ground, but I am so grateful for this experience.

The friends we are with are beautiful and caring, and I realize life is less about an incredible setting and more about the people around us.

Speaking of amazing people, I wish you were here.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Thrifty Summer Styling

Blame it on the nightly ice cream or the 2 (still) injured shoulders, but late spring/early summer found me with 3+ social events looming on my calendar and a closet full of clothes that were too small. We have a major family vacation coming up, and I knew any new clothes would have to be of the "twice-loved" variety. Let's see how it all turned out:

Wedding #1
Elegant country club setting in Bethesda, MD. Stunning young bride and groom. We will not discuss the epic argument that transpired by the three people pictured below on the way to the wedding.

Strapless dark blue Target dress purchased for $5 at the thrift store. When I got it home, however, I realized I'd over-estimated my cup size, so there was a lot of gaping fabric. A quick trip to the tailor to have it taken in put the dress up into the $45 dollar range. And, it was now so tight in the ribcage,  it was hard to breathe, and laughing was out of the question. New at Target, the dress would  probably would have been about $25.

Win? Not so sure.

P.S. I forgot to get my roots dyed before the wedding.
P.P.S. Yes, Margaret is wearing a brand spanking new dress. No one said life was fair.

Wedding #2:
Outdoor wedding at a national park on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. Perfect weather! Service under the trees, then reception with live music in a big, breezy barn. Gray cotton J. Crew dress from thrift shop $6.50. Cool and comfy, plus pockets for my cell phone. Definite win.

Wedding # 3:
Took place at our annual camping trip in West Virginia. Read more about those trips here, here, and here. Ceremony in meadow surrounded by mountains. Vows under an arbor made by my brother, the groom.

I ran out of time to buy a "new" dress and pulled out dress # 2 again. It was cool and comfy, and this got the price per wear down to just $3.25. Win-Win!

 (Margaret helping bride and groom put flowers on arbor a few hours before the ceremony)

(My big brother the groom)

More thrifty finds to follow!