Sunday, November 29, 2009

Making Memories

The boys and I had a chance to play in a park this weekend while Mark helped my parents with a volunteer service project for the local historical center.

I think we all had fun ... just in different ways.

Swinging and speeding for me and the boys:

Decking historical halls (actually brick walls?) for Mark, Mom and Dad.

Precious memories made and shared. Now my sons know what a "Freddie stick" is and how their grandpa is a lot like mine.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Thanksmus (Thanksmas?) 2009

While some in the family might dispute the spelling of our hybrid holiday, the Bowden clan has no disagreements about its importance. We've been celebrating Thanksmus (or Thanksmas) for nearly two decades now - maybe more (depending on who you ask and how they count). Gathering grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins on the Friday after Thanksgiving is simply what we do now. So if you're a Bowden of the Fred and Delma branch, you mark Thanksmus on your calendar, because you know its gonna happen.

This is the eighth year that we've not had Great-Grandpa alive to celebrate with us and the second year we've not had Great-Grandma; but we continue to have her younger sister, Mildred, and Mildred's son Duane. And we continue to eat a Thanksgiving dinner for lunch, cherish time together in the afternoon (now on a bowling alley rather than during a Santa visit) and exchange Christmas gifts with each another as suppertime approaches.

This year we celebrated as we have in years past: kids exploring the woods out back and the basement below, everyone eating platefuls of Thanksgiving fare for lunch – and again as luscious leftovers, some attempting to make history at the bowling alley while others gleaned historical facts from family photo albums, children receiving packages from the red Santa bag, and adults swapping gifts according to rules that change slightly from one year to the next.

Share the wonder, share the joy, of a Bowden Thanksmus Celebration!




P.S. - Hope you had fun, Miss Meghan, our first family guest.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Thanksgiving Haircuts

Just after lunch three Thanksgivings ago, our family packed up Stross' room at St. Mary's Hospital in Rochester and traveled to the Hotel Winneshiek in Decorah, Iowa, to spend the rest of the day recuperating from Stross' shunt replacement. His previous shunt had silently begun to fail, and this operation had been necessary to relieve his brain of pressure caused by a build-up of spinal fluid. We'd only discovered the life-threatening problem, because I'd realized he'd not had an MRI in several years and had requested one as part of his fall check-up at the Mayo Clinic.

Sometime I'll attempt to describe the mixture of gratitude, horror and disbelief we felt upon learning the results of his MRI. I'll also try to explain what it felt like to tell him "good night" during the weeks before his surgery, wondering if he'd awaken the next day. As the neurosurgeon had explained it, until Stross had the surgery, we ran the risk of the fluid placing enough pressure on his brain stem to stop his breathing as he slept.

Today, I'm simply remembering his haircut on that Thanksgiving holiday in 2006, for Stross chose that surgery as the reason to get his first Mohawk. His reasoning and ours had been that if they were going shave his head anyway, he might as well do it first, and with style.

Since then Stross has probably had about two or three additional Mohawk cuts - and those for no specific reason, really. Just because.

Yesterday Stross had a reason again, but I'll let him tell you why he's sporting a Mohawk again this Thanksgiving.

This vlog is for you Philip, Lynne and Jack. Philip, we're going to get our Christmas tree soon. We will always hold fond memories of having you join us on those outings when you were a student at Waldorf in the late 90s. It would be great to take your whole family with us this time. And, hey, there isn't any snow on the ground yet; so we could even let you drive without fear of you landing in the ditch. Please send your parents our greetings. All the way to Russia, with love.

P.S. - After we checked into the historic Hotel Winneshiek that year - beautifully decorated for the holiday season - we let Stross take a painfully-late-dose-of-Tylenol nap before picking up a Mabe's Pizza. Our family enjoyed one of the most delectable Thanksgiving's Day suppers we've ever had.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

A Hero

I'm continuing to clean "out" my office in preparation for my last "in" day (Monday). Today I found a small paper tacked to my bulletin board with a scribbled sentence fragment. It's the answer to a question posed by some students who were working on an assignment that involved (what else?) collecting answers.

Their question: What is a hero?

My answer: Someone others look to in admiration for a behavior they hope to emulate.

I remember the words had rolled out of my mouth that day, and I was so impressed by my answer (such a Joy thing, *sigh*) that I wrote it down to think about later.

Here's what I think today: I have a lot of heroes in my life – a lot of people I hope to emulate in the midst of experiences yet unknown or as I tackle the often strange occurrences of daily life.

Stross continues to be one of my heroes - someone that I'd like to emulate in so many ways when I grow up. I don't think my youngest son is offended I feel that way, for I think he's beginning to understand the dynamics of that fascinating paradox as well. And, Skye, you are one of my heroes, too, such an open and generous heart.

Thank you, my heroes ... my friends ... my sons.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Peeking at the Past

Trudie, a friend from my college days, posted a comment in response to a recent blog that sounded as if she could see one of the photos hanging on Mark's office wall all the way from her home on our nation's east coast. The photo is a personal favorite: a black and white, 11x 14 of me singing "New York, New York," while dressed in an 80s-era white jumpsuit."

A friend named Patrick Simmons took the photo; and I remember feeling grateful that he'd captured the moment, for I had not wanted the song to end. If I could, I'd have hung that note – that night – in the air forever. Because of Pat's photo, it sorta has.

But, that was 1985, and since then, the photo has only existed on Mark's wall and the pages of a Wartburg College Fortress yearbook. Trudie's e-comment this week prompted me to go to Mark's office, take the framed print down and scan it into my computer so the image can exist in the digital realm, maybe forever. Right?

But a funny thing happened on my way to the scanner. I found a paper hanging from the same nail as the framed photo, hidden behind it apparently since 2004 – according to the date on the paper. It was a print out of a memory I'd posted on a message board known as Millaweb, a forum for Waldorf alumni and friends who are all somehow connected to Brian Miller, class of 1998. My memory - a contribution to a thread topic on romantic memories - described the first Valentine's Day Mark and I shared in 1985, two days before our first kiss.

That five-year-old paper is evidence that Mark also tries to capture memories, and interestingly, he's now given me a new romantic memory to treasure: finding his hidden archive.

Our differences are striking. Mark constantly cautions me to live in the moment because life is perishable, while I constantly collect moments to relive so they won't have fully perished. He secretly archives memories, while I post them for the world.

I hope our differences deepen our alliance, keeping us fascinated about the history we've shared while anticipating a future we are creating moment by memorable moment. I guess I'll find out when Mark discovers that I've now posted his hidden memory for the whole world to see.

I simply can't help myself.

While I had not forgotten our first Valentine's Day, I had forgotten that I'd once shared the story with others. Thanks to Mark, I again have the story for safe keeping as I told it in 2004, because Millaweb – once a lively forum for Brian's college cohorts and colleagues – has become his personal place of preservation, a home for photos and stories of his young family's perishable moments. As it should be. (And, come on, alliteration is fun, yes?)

Therefore, I must post my memory of our first Valentine's Day again – this time in a digital realm that might outlast the paper that's still hanging behind the photo on Mark's office wall – because we need to peek at the past every once in a while, don't we. We need to cherish moments as we live them, for life is perishable - each minute as fleeting as the next.

So capture your cherished moments. Suspend them in time anyway you know how, for one day you'll appreciate the capacity they have to propel you into the future, bolstered by the formidable fuel that is your invincible past.


My First Valentine’s Love

Once, when I was a junior in college, I was on my dorm floor making fun of all the girls who were being visited by the floral delivery guy. When the guy ventured onto our floor again (for like the fifth time) a couple other girls and I started taunting him: “You’re back? So who’s it for this time? Don’t you have anything better to do?”

Well, he said: “These are for someone named Joy.”

Man, did those girls turn on me! I had no idea that this very cute guy I worked with as a singing waiter was planning to send me a dozen roses! I’m certain I blushed; I know I was very embarrassed. Best of all, the card read: “Friends are Friends Forever.” (See … I’d been telling the girls that we were “just friends.”)

Needless to say I started to pay even closer attention to this man with an incredible smile who’d spent dozens of evenings lingering while saying goodnight, but never once attempting a goodnight kiss. Insanely enough, he’d managed to have me fall in love with his voice, then become increasingly intrigued by all other aspects of him simply by driving me home, hanging out to eat boatloads of chocolate (hot chocolate with chocolate truffle mousse topped with Hershey’s kisses was a favorite), and arguing about whether or not women should be ministers.

Yes, those girls were at our wedding and still hold a very special place in my heart. They are probably the last ones to see me as a young woman whose life was fully her own and the first ones to see what it meant for me to become blissfully attached to someone forever.

*leaving to go find Mark*

Sunday, November 8, 2009

The Process of Remembrance

Sometimes I feel like I should apologize for my overt emotional transparency, for I know many people are not comfortable around those who regularly put emotionally tainted thoughts on display. However, if you have visited my blog before, you know that I flash both emotions and thoughts at will – a characteristic, I believe, that might be dictated by my DNA.

So if this is your first time to my blog: beware. I'm pretty hung up on me. To be even more clear: This blog is all about me, all the time.

That shouldn't be a surprise, for that's what a blog is – a web log that provides a running commentary on a topic or serves as an online diary. My blog is mostly the latter flavored with a bit of the former, and I regard this blog as an extension of Involuntary Joy, the memoir I wrote about my first five years as a mom. How I share what's on my mind matches the book's tone, and I believe the copy on the book's cover describes it best:

Involuntary Joy relates the fullness of her story, with blemishes exposed and vulnerabilities offered for full examination.

So, again: beware. You're gonna get the full story of what's happening in my life, with blemishes exposed and vulnerabilities offered to you for full examination. I simply don't know another way to do it.

My blog's purpose – declared in full view as the subhead – is to answer a perpetual question: "Who am I now?" I believe this question has a universal answer that remains constant – a child of God – as well as an answer that varies with each person who is asking. It's the Part 2 of the question that intrigues me most, for it deepens Part 1: "I am a child of God who …"

Who what?

Thinks this {fill in the blank}.
Is afraid of this {fill in the blank}.
Is reluctant to admit this {fill in the blank}.
Wishes she could stop doing this {fill in the blank}.
Is deeply grateful for this {fill in the blank}.

You get the idea.

For me, coming up with answers for the blanks requires a type of self-examination that's aided by memory. I gain insight about where I'm going based on introspection about where I've been. Sometimes my process for remembrance is intentional, like paging through photo albums and yearbooks or reading through files filled with letters, documents and old journal entries. I find affirmation in this jumbled chronicle of my life's milestone moments – reassurance that who I am has been sufficient and who I can be holds great promise.

Other times remembrance simply happens, triggered by memories that bubble into present day events. This type of bubbling happened this weekend as I helped apply stage makeup to cast members in a high school production of "Oklahoma." Stage makeup colors many of my high school memories, connecting me to the leading lady I used to be. I was a young woman who earned a musical theatre scholarship to the University of Northern Iowa but decided not to use it. This earlier version of me was a dramatic, real-life ingenue who realized that pursuing life as an actress would forever change her – likely becoming more dramatic and less like an ingenue.

This weekend, when I saw the high school actors, I remembered me and felt gratitude for the wonder of my life's journey.

Had I become an actress, I don't think I'd have become a mother; for as I shared in the epilogue of Involuntary Joy, I had decided not to have children at the time I was entertaining college scholarships. Perhaps, I'd have eventually felt a maternal pull as part of a storybook storyline with a real-life equivalent of a leading man. Or maybe I'd have been drawn to the motherhood experience out of a desire to really know what being a mother felt like, not just acting such a part.

I'll never know.

On Saturday, as I remembered the me of then, I was thankful for the me of now – a mom watching her son stretch his moral imagination by becoming a cowboy. And not just any cowboy – a toe tapping, tap dancing, lasso roping, singing one. While I've never performed the role of a cowboy, I saw myself in my son, loving every minute of what it took to bring his role to life in front of an adoring audience. Regardless of where his life's journey carries him, I believe that one day he, too, will remember those moments and wonder how they might help answer the question: "Who am I now?"

Remembrance is a powerful practice, isn't it? Holy days of remembrance connect the people of Israel to the God of their fathers. Muslims recount Allah's faithfulness as a way of experiencing the same. Like the disciples of these and other faith expressions, I've found that remembering who I used to be and where I've been establishes a divine connection that sustains my hope for all that is to come.

We are all children of God – every one of us. Children of God who ... well, you fill in the blank.

For the record: My favorite role was Reno Sweeney, a character definitely not of the ingenue mold. Interestingly, she's probably the one I related to best, as well – except for her former prostitute and friend-to-gangsters status. I love Reno's complexity and her brazen, let's-put-everything-on-the-table-friend attitude.


Friday, November 6, 2009

A Whole Lotta Life

A whole lotta life happened this week.

It seems that – contrary to my life plans – I can't avoid a mid-life crisis.

Stay tuned ...

Sunday, November 1, 2009

"This is It" - Our Review

Michael Jackson means something very different to my teenage son than he does to me. While I sat in the theatre taking in "This is It" -- nodding my head and tapping my feet to the beat of my youth -- he sat beside me fascinated by thoughts of how one person can be known both for unsavory indiscretions (allegedly) and unparalleled genius (undeniably). I guess I pondered the paradox also, but most of the time I simply drank in the wonder of someone so thoroughly in command of his capacity to communicate through music.

It's practically cliche' to describe Michael Jackson as a genius. But, really, what other single word can be used? He's clearly the master of his craft - a magician who mixes music, movement and moving images as a way to fashion memories capable of lasting a lifetime. And now this movie encapsulates the work of his life: This truly is it.

Both times that I watched this cinematic tribute, I sat silently and a bit misty-eyed through the end credits like most of the other theatre-goers, attempting to reconcile what it meant that this really was it. The first time I sat next to my husband, remembering what it felt like to dance with him to the songs playing again for us as lively as in our courtship. The second time I sat next to my youngest son, enjoying a rare - and fleeting - night out together. One day he will accompany females that aren't me to must-see movies, but tonight the privilege was mine.

Then, as we warped back to present time during the car ride home, he helped me remember that it truly is times like these that help us learn to live and love again. I am blessed.

Enjoy ...