Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Donut Days and Deep Roots

Tonight I discovered something about myself that should have been pretty obvious: The fact that our family has donuts for breakfast each Saturday is more than a treat for me. It’s an emotionally comforting ritual with deep roots.

In college, during Mark’s and my stint as singing waiters, Saturday mornings were our time to rehearse the music for our weekend dinner shows. Larry Kussatz, the owner of Carver’s Restaurant and our music director, would always have fresh pots of coffee and platters of donuts ready for us at 9 a.m. We each had our favorite selections – donuts and songs – and we each counted on this weekly ritual, just as we counted on each other to fill in the melody or harmony of our particular vocal part.

As Mark and I reconnected tonight with Pamela Cross Samuels, one of a select few who knows what it felt like to be a Carver’s Singer, I found myself grateful for the comfort my Saturday donut continues to bring me each week. I also found myself hoping that Pam has something similar to comfort her at the end of weeks when she might feel at bit overwhelmed at times.

In the years since we entertained diners at Carver’s (Craig Bennett being such a patron), we’ve all experienced some fairly daunting life detours. The most dramatic part of Mark’s and my detour story is connected to Stross’ birth, as recounted in Involuntary Joy. Yet Pam’s and Craig’s lives have also been defined by moments that are equally as book-worthy.

For instance, HIV has detoured Craig’s life plans while leukemia has detoured Pam’s. Her diagnosis came six months after losing her mother to cancer and seven years after becoming a single mother. Yet it’s clear that Pam refuses to have her life defined by chronic myelogenous leukemia (CML), single-parenthood or life without her mother.

As we lingered tonight – laughing over who we were back then and how we lived out our more naïve existences – we affirmed the rhythm of life and the transcendent power of love. We helped transport each other to happier times, silently acknowledging a fierce, if unspoken, love for one another along with an inability to fully recognize that love for what it is.

Tonight we affirmed there is nothing that can diminish the power of life itself. Not physical and intellectual disabilities, not HIV, not singleness, not single parenthood, not the loss of a parent, not the loss of a job - not even chronic myelogenous leukemia.

And certainly, if we ever experience a week when we begin to feel diminished or overwhelmed, we can count on the revival that Saturday morning donuts and a fresh pot of coffee might bring. Emotional comfort with deep roots. “What would I do without my music? What would I do without my song? What would I do without my music, to pick me up when everything seems wrong?”

Love to you, Pam. Thanks for the memories. And, thanks to you, too, Craig! Let’s do it again. Soon. Life’s way too short. (Don’t we know it!)

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Winter Wonders 2010

I have a difficult time getting in the Christmas spirit without an ample supply of snow. Fortunately, the Midwest's weather patterns have made for a wonderfully white Christmas season this year without a worry of it melting before the happy holy day. Our children have already had opportunities to play in the snow with their cousins, an activity that doesn't become too childish no matter the age of the child - me included. In fact, I thoroughly enjoyed having a reason to run outside to take photos of the crew as they rough-housed and rolled in the fluffy white stuff.

Tonight I was reminded of the full range of holiday experiences we've been enjoying since Thanksgiving. Not long after sunset I ran outside in my stocking feet - with no coat, either - to watch winter fireworks from our front porch in 5º weather.



Only three weeks earlier our family wandered around in the Phoenix area's 70º weather, taking in the sights and sounds of its holiday celebrations. I highly doubt a native of Arizona would have done what I did tonight - the stocking-foot-with-no-coat thing. In fact, a lot of Midwesterners wouldn't have stood in the snow in stocking feet - and I say good for them, the smart ones. I just didn't want to miss the action.

Watching the fireworks appear to light up our Iowa neighbor's evergreen reminded me that our family saw the Tumbleweed Christmas Tree in Chandler, Arizona, one week before it was officially lighted. You can see it, too, in this clip of our adventures.



Fortunately, in this era of YouTube, I was able to see the finished product shining in its full glory, courtesy of another family. I posted it here so that you, too, can enjoy the lighting of the famous Tumbleweed Christmas Tree as it was experienced by a family in the Southwest - likely one who would find it fascinating that there is a small town in the Midwest who lights fireworks in December.

What makes it feel like Christmastime where you live? Whatever it happens to be, I hope you are experiencing the wonders of the season in all their fullness.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Nebulous Nature of Life’s Pivotal Moments: Part 2

To read Part 1: Click here.

It was late in the spring of 2000, and I was angry. I didn’t know that I was angry though. Not until Mark uttered these words a second time: “Is that what you want?”

I wasn’t exactly sure how to respond. His repeated question hung for a space of time that allowed me to live through the experiences that had gotten me to that particular moment – the way someone’s life flashes before them when threatened.

Did I feel threatened? Mark had – quite possibly – offered me exactly what I wanted and even needed. I had simply to respond: “yes” or “no.”

His question came after I blasted into the video editing bay where he was working on a project for Waldorf College in order to harangue him. It was a long diatribe. Something about the college (who happened to be his employer and our primary source of income) and how we had tied ourselves to a place that had announced a little more than a year earlier that it faced dire financial circumstances. I also included some fierce sounding accusations about how he spent an exorbitant amount of time at the college and that it didn’t seem to be appreciated. The entire episode was tinged with overtones that said I was tired of being the go-to person on certain matters related to our sons’ care.

Only seven years previous, we had chosen this life arrangement: Mark becoming our family’s primary breadwinner rather than me continuing in that role. Me becoming our children’s primary care provider, and our family living in a city with a population that represented 2 percent of our previous hometown.

Stross was 9 and Skye was 5 at the time. And, evidently, I was tired of being the home-based parent, because these incredibly revealing words tumbled accusingly from my mouth: “You know, I could have been the vice president of communications for some company somewhere by now.”

Silence.

Mark and I looked at one another, me unflinching as I – in private horror – wondered where my statement had come from; he unflinching as he gathered his thoughts and then offered a genuine and animated response that affirmed my anger.

“Is that what you want?” He asked, looking part relieved and part frustrated. “Is it? Because if it is, I’m game. Just say the word, and we are out of here. I’ll go to my office right now, type up a letter of resignation and start packing. You mean more to me than this place. A hell of a lot more. And if you’re not happy, I’m not either. So if it’s time for us to leave so you can do what you need to, let’s do it.”

His words were exactly what I needed to hear, but I couldn’t determine if they were what I wanted to hear. I said nothing. He continued even more pointedly.

“Is that what you want?”

There it was again, but this time my life flashed in a dizzy mess.

I did not want to say “yes” just because I was angry – and I could no longer deny that I was angry. In fact, I was something beyond angry. I was not living the kind of life I wanted to live. I had tried so hard not to become a victim of circumstance after Stross’ birth, but I had finally begun to acknowledge what I had lost. Stross’ dramatic needs now shaped mine. He was born with conditions regarded far outside the realm of normal. My life now reflected his realities. No, they were my realities. Non-normal realities. Whatever that meant.

I also could not say “yes” out of a selfish need to preserve an identity that fit about as well as my pre-pregnancy jeans. But I was scared. Mark knew it. He was scared too. He didn’t want to lose any more of me than what I’d already shelved.

I answered using the word that best matched my mood.

“No.”

“So you don’t want that?” Mark asked. “I know you are right. You could have been a vice president. I won’t hold you back.”

“I said ‘no.’”

“Then what is this about?”

“I don’t know.”

That was more than 10 years ago. And I did not know what it was about then. But I do know now.

Two roads had diverged in the woods that was my life. And looking down one as far as I could, I had not liked what I could not see beneath mounds of nettles and undergrowth. However, I could not take the other road either. Instead, I had hoped it would keep for another day.

Yet way leads to way, just as it did years before that moment when we decided to have a child. And then again when we decided to have Mark become a stay-at-home father, and yet again when we decided to move and switch roles, and still again when we decided to have a second child, and still once more when Stross became gravely ill and we thought about moving after he recovered as a way to manage our debt.

I have never been able to figure out a way back. I can only hope to keep moving toward new diverging paths that pose easier choices. And I learned long ago –simultaneous with Stross’s first breath – that it is futile to wonder where other paths might have led.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I –
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

Can you hear me sighing? I sure hope so, for if you can, that will make all the difference.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Nebulous Nature of Life’s Pivotal Moments: Part 1

My muse must be messing with me. And he must be into poetry right now, for today – like a few days earlier – I awoke with the stanza of a poem that is connected to a childhood memory marching through my mind. It’s the last part of Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken,” a poem I was required to memorize during my sophomore year of high school. (Thank you, Mrs. Johnston.)

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I –
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

Frost has kept me captivated with the nebulous nature of life’s pivotal moments from my first reading of this classic. The undeniable notion that a person’s life is forever changed by one choice is … well, undeniable, isn’t it? Ask people in prison, mothers in maternity wards, or company presidents now in either confining or comfortable quarters. Their lives changed instantaneously because of a choice they made, even if they were unaware of it at the time.

I’m certain mine has too – multiple times. Make that a multitude of times. Today my muse has reminded me of the moment I continue to ponder most; and no matter how many times I recount or relive that particular moment of divergence, I cannot decide if I took the road less traveled by or the one most people would have chosen. I can’t even decide if my choice was intentional or simply the product of picking the path of least resistance.

Perhaps you will be able to tell.

It was late in the spring of 2000, and …

Stay tuned
Part 2
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Thursday, December 9, 2010

The Swing

It took me a while, but I finally remembered enough words for a successful web search. Now I have the full memory of my mother reciting Robert Louis Stevenson's The Swing every time we would swing together. My memories are locked in at about age 7 to 9, but I know she did the same thing when I would swing in junior high and even high school. In fact, if my mother and I were to go to a park where I could enjoy swinging now - she past retirement age and me in my middle years - she would start reciting this poem. I know she would.

So forgive me for posting this photo again; but it just seems right, for every time I swing - as I did just a few weeks ago when I took this photo - I hear my mother's voice lyrically reciting lines in time to the pace of my swinging. I don't hear each specific word, but I hear her and I connect with the spirit and intent of those life-filled moments.

I think divine communication is like that. I sometimes hear God (or for those of you who like to use this term: a higher power) marking time to the cadence of my life's experiences. I can't hear exactly what is being said, but I hear God and am able to connect in spirit. It is incredibly affirming. Not like the sing-song pattern of my mother's cadence, but a steady reassurance.

Even without hearing words - like when my memory supplies this poem's cadence as I swing to a lyrical beat - I can feel the spirit of a moment as it divinely ties me to some earlier time. And I know what I am hearing. I feel safe. I feel the intent.

But I must remember to make time to enjoy swinging. So also I must make time to dance or waltz or walk or sing or sit or cry with God. Or perhaps even yell at God. God doesn't mind. That's what the divine cadence tells me.

I hope you have such moments and that they help you feel secure - even if a bit scared. Like when you are swinging really high but can hear your mom's voice helping you keep a steady time.

Amen. May it indeed be so.

The Swing
by Robert Louis Stevenson

How do you like to go up in a swing,
Up in the air so blue?
Oh, I do think it the pleasantest thing
Ever a child can do!

Up in the air and over the wall,
Till I can see so wide,
Rivers and trees and cattle and all
Over the countryside—

Till I look down on the garden green,
Down on the roof so brown—
Up in the air I go flying again,
Up in the air and down!

Monday, December 6, 2010

Love every moment

written Tuesday, Nov. 30, 2010

I devour dark chocolate at some point each day - part indulgence, part coping mechanism; my daily ritual is always comforting. Today I also found myself contemplating a new life perspective, courtesy of the wrapper message on a Dove® dark chocolate single. The message read: Love every moment.

Upon first read, I understood the message as an invitation to love each thing that happens to me during the day – an implication that each moment has worth, regardless of what might be happening at the time. Then came my instant revulsion to that thought by way of my poo-on-that-no-way attitude.

You see, I wasn’t particularly in the mood for such a platitude, for only seconds earlier I had walked out of Stross’s bathroom after helping him with a particularly messy colostomy issue. A literal “poo-on-that” moment. I had not loved that moment nor could I imagine loving such a moment until I had another, far-less-revolting thought: What if the message was not a command to love every moment, but to spend every moment expressing love? Love – every – moment. What if I was being reminded to – just as the wrapper read – love in every moment that I am alive? That is an extremely intense challenge; however, it is certainly something worthy of my aspiration. And, truly, love is what keeps me present so I can do my best work when helping Stross during moments that are far from Norman Rockwellian slices of life.

My more nuanced and more enlightened thought solidified when – not content with eating only one Dove® dark chocolate single – I grabbed for another shiny wrapped treat. The second one's message also conveyed a message related to love: Love rules without rules.

Ah, ha! Perhaps, as I suspected, the first wrapper was not a command. Perhaps it was simply a reminder. I have the option – a choice – to express love no matter what might be happening in my life, every moment of every day. I can choose to love every moment.

That’s a tall order when my attention is derailed by poo-on-you incidents. But that is what I am called to do … regardless. To love with all my heart, soul and mind, and to love my neighbors as myself. This call to love should not be easily forgotten, for it is echoed by every major religion in the world. Even by the candy wrappers on my chosen daily chocolates.

Thank you, Dove® dark chocolate singles. You gave me something new to think about today. Love every moment. I will remember that rule even when life feels as if there are no rules.

Amen. May it indeed be so.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Relationships: Something to believe in

Over the holidays, someone told me they "don't believe in Facebook." I sorta wanted to laugh, as I don't "believe" that Facebook was designed for people to ever "believe" in it.

Facebook, like Twitter, MySpace and all other forms of social media, are tools for communicating and developing relationships.

I believe in relationships, for I believe we are a relational species; I also believe relationships exist in various forms. Therefore, why not via Facebook?

I think what the young man really meant was that he doesn't believe in spending time online or perhaps he doesn't believe in sharing information about himself in a public forum like Facebook. He may not even believe that the relationships that form through Facebook warrant his time or attention. Those are personal philosophies or beliefs. And, of course he is entitled to them.

I continue to believe in people and continue to feel compelled to share with those I am privileged to have a relationship with. For me, that includes those who might stumble upon whatever I place here as well as those who have chosen to regularly follow what I might post.

During Thanksgiving week, I began to create a list of topics that I am compelled to write or vlog on, because I am thankful for this new medium that allows me to share in a new way, through new forms of relationship. I trust you had a rewarding time of thanks as well. Perhaps you spent a day or two with those you share life with in some form of a relationship. And if your holiday gathering time was anything like mine, you had an opportunity to reflect on the nature of those relationships and how they are shaped by shared beliefs. Or maybe you (again, like me) realized that some relationships are actually shaped more by things you do not share.

I believe that's what I'll begin to explore and write about next. For I have been created to be in relationship and am compelled to understand what that means - both with those I regard as kindred spirits and those who are merely kin.

As always, feel free to share your thoughts as well.

You may be wondering why I posted a photo of my feet that I made while swinging. Well, I can point to this moment and remember what it felt like to be happy. I plan to be even more intentional about happiness this holiday season and throughout the coming new year. I believe happiness is the best measurement of a relationship, whether that relationship is between you and others - or even you with yourself.

So here's to your happiness, and to mine.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Remaining Relevant

I've been assisting Mark with a project that involves looking through decades of family photos. Interestingly, the images of Younger Me have focused Older Me's thoughts.

I recognize a constant desire for - not just a sense of purpose - but something beyond purpose: relevance.

Then - as now - I hoped to contribute in ways that mattered. And not only where family was concerned, but in every aspect of life. That desire has not diminished with the fading color of my hair. In fact, I think my craving for relevance intensifies with each birthday, even each new year.

What is it that makes me, me?

What do I contribute that matters to those I encounter?

How do I interact and engage and question and provide answers in concert with the people and circumstances that shape my life?

Fascinatingly, those answers change even as they stay the same; for I continue to be who I am - only redefined for a new time, a new era of life.

So what remains my hope?

To remain appropriately and closely connected. In keeping with the times. Relevant.

Do I doubt that is possible? Sometimes. But hope erases doubt, doesn't it?

Hopeful relevance.

Now that's nice.

Amen. May it indeed be so.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Happy November

I have been writing blogs. They just haven't gotten into written form.

I have crafted:

- one about connecting with the divine through a caterpillar that barrel-rolled across the sidewalk, missing my footfall;

- one about the yellow brilliance of the last blooming day lily of the year amid a row of dried-brown sister blooms;

- one about welcoming people with disabilities into every day life in the simplest of ways;

- one about Reformation Sunday and how I was suddenly 6-years-old and hearing my Aunt Lois' voice as I joined in singing a rarely used canticle;

- one about fear and how it negatively shapes a person's response to divine things;

- even one about November.

I wonder what it will take for my thoughts to - once again - spill out for public viewing. Am I too busy? Am I feeling private? Am I wondering if my thoughts matter to anyone?

I am not sure. Then again, if I knew, would I tell you?

I like to think so.

I like to think that I live as I imagine a writer does - seeing poetry in everyday life.

I also like to think that one day I will live a life that allows me to regularly share the poetry I see.

Amen. May it indeed be so.

P.S. - Thank you for reading ... listening ... sharing ...

I pray that the meditation of my heart and the impulse of my spirit are acceptable in your sight.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Wartburg College - U - rah, rah, rah !

Of course I have a lot to say about the experiences I enjoyed today. But I don't want to. I would prefer to have these two vlogs say it for me. Of course, what they say to you will depend on how well you know my love for my alma mater, Wartburg College.

The first vlog captures the overall fun of the day; the second vlog toys with idea that there truly might be something known as a quirk of fate - or three.


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Update: Nicole Johanningmeier was also a Page editor and a Maggie award winner!
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Update: Demonstrating another twist of fate, Emily Schmitt informed me today that her father is Steve Schmitt, a high school classmate of mine. Wow!
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Tuesday, October 19, 2010

What a Difference a Week Makes

Only one week later, beautiful orange leaves have become a crunchy brown carpet.
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The weather is still unseasonably warm. I am still grateful to be living where there are four distinct seasons.
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Autumn continues to pulsate with the rhythm of life, while its powerful beat continues moving me forward.
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But to where?
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To what?
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Our family visited northeast Iowa again this past weekend, including - once again - a trip to the mighty Mississippi. My soul jumps with recognition when journeying through that part the world. I remember where I came from. Who I aspired to be. Who I am.
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I long for it to whisper secrets of what is to come.
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Plans to prosper, not to harm. Plans for hope and a future.
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Until then, simply rest in love and abide.
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Monday, October 11, 2010

Rhythm of Life

One of the songs Mark and I sang at Carver's Restaurant during our singing waiter era was Rhythm of Life. The lyrics have remained part of my life's soundtrack, reprising around each equinox.

The rhythm of life is a powerful beat,
Puts a tingle in your fingers
and a tingle in your feet,
Rhythm on the inside,
Rhythm on the street,
Yes, the rhythm of life is a powerful beat


Today I am reminded of why I hope to always live in place that pulsates with the rhythm of four distinct seasons...and I hope to be happy when living there.

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Don't let Stross' choice of attire fool you. It is a balmy (almost too balmy) 80° fall day. He simply loves his new Notre Dame coat and cannot wait for the weather to become seasonal.

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What do you hope for on this October day?


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Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Restlessness equates danger for me

I am in a dangerous mood. But before you get excited about what that might mean, know that restlessness equates danger for me. I could say, “I am restless,” but that wouldn’t adequately explain my mental state.

I am the kind of restless (dangerous) that would have me selling nearly all my possessions and moving into a small apartment so I could better focus on the essence of life. Mark likely wouldn’t find that dangerous, however, as we spent the first three years of our marriage living in an apartment no bigger than a two-stall garage (and a small garage at that). But I have a feeling my sons would feel the earth shake beneath them should such a bizarre downsize occur. So maybe that’s too dangerous an outcome for my restlessness, huh?

Yet, I am also the kind of restless (dangerous) that caused a father in Florida to board a bus and angrily threaten the bullies who had been picking on his 12-year-old daughter. He commented that it had “turned (his) world upside down” to know that she, who lives with cerebral palsy, was being bullied.

I get that.

I remember when my son, who was born with spina bifida and multiple other birth defects, was being bullied in middle school. I didn’t board a bus, but I wrote a handwritten letter to the offenders and asked the principal to deliver it to the bullies – those boys. I trust that he did. I also trust that the bullying stopped.

However, I am keenly aware that I don’t really know what happened to Stross during his days at school. I remember fearing what might happen to him during his time before school, his lunch hour and the time he spent waiting for me to pick him up. I assumed he would be safe during class.

If I could, I would have been there to let the bullies know that my son should not be the butt of their jokes. Instead, I put my feelings in a letter and hoped the letter had years' worth of staying power, at least with those two bullies – those two boys. I told the bullies that my son would never have the opportunities in life that they would, and that they would always have the power to make my son a victim. I simply hoped they would choose not to. I needed for them to hear that I loved Stross deeply; that they had hurt him deeply, and that their actions had hurt each one of us – them included – in a lasting way.

I don’t know what became of those bullying boys – now men. But I know that bullies – in general – still exist. In fact, most young bullies grow up to be adult bullies. They just change their tactics and how they choose their targets. That’s dangerous. And it makes me restless, wondering who and what will be next.

Restless … dangerous … I know they are different. I do. But they go together, yes?

The father couldn’t wait when his daughter was in danger. She was in danger. He felt compelled to act; and while he regretted how he chose to act, he didn’t regret doing something that stopped the bullying, even though it brought consequences for him. He moved past a state of restlessness directly into anger.

But I am not angry. At least I don't think so. I am restless. Why? And why do I feel threatened? Why do I have this impulse to sell my possessions and run away?

I can name the emotions I am feeling. I simply cannot identify their cause.

Someone asked me recently if I worried that I exposed too much of myself in my blog. Why, I asked? Should I be worried? I simply share what I am feeling - what I am living through - as openly and honestly as I know how. Is that dangerous? If so, why? I cannot imagine openness and honesty being dangerous, unless there are bullies lurking who regard those as vulnerabilities. Bullies who take someone else’s vulnerabilities and then twist them for their selfish purposes.

Do you want to know the incident that sent my son into shut down mode that day – the day I learned about his bullies? Do you want to hear about the incident that caused Stross, my open, honest and vulnerable son, to begin to withdraw and cry tears of frustration and anger?

During art class, some boys at his table said: “I bet your dad is gay. I bet your dad sleeps with other boys.”

Stross, mistakenly thinking that the bullies really wanted to talk to him in a real conversation, and not understanding the stigma attached to a word like “gay,” offered this response: “My dad slept in his uncles' bed for Christmas.” Stross had been proud that he had something so fresh to share from the bedtime story his father had told him the night before. Less than 18-hours previously, Stross had hung on every word Mark had told him about those childhood Christmases in Kentucky and how Uncle Philip and Uncle Richard had said that, “Nephews make good foot warmers.”

Now, I don’t exactly know what the bullies did after Stross told them about his dad and the bed and the uncles from Kentucky. I just know that I picked up a despondent Stross from school that day, and that Stross lacked both the intellectual capacity and the verbal communication skills to tell me the details of what had occurred. I did my best job of gentle-mother-sleuthing, and after I’d pieced together as much of the story as I could, I took action.

An anxious phone call to the principal at his home.
An evening spent handwriting two letters that I hoped would be delivered.
A sleepless night worried about how Stross would do in a new class section. (He simply could not be near those bullies – those boys – again. Would it even be possible to keep them away?)

There were more bullying incidents for Stross. But nothing as big as the one that caused him to shut down. At least that I know of.

Bullies forever changed my son's life. They changed my life.

The threat of danger hung with us through the remainder of Stross’ middle school years and all the way through his high school experiences. I still recognize tinges of restless fear (I am the one with fear, not Stross) as I watch him being as independent as his life allows.

And now I am restless. It's a dangerous mood.

I don’t like it. I am tired of feeling it, and as soon as I can identify what is going on, I plan to act. No regrets.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Brilliant, bountiful autumn: I take comfort in you

I take comfort in the changing of seasons. The earth's heartbeat causes vegetation to bud, bloom, fade, and then blow to the ground as sudden as a burst of wind. Comfort exists in knowing it will happen again in due season - as brilliant and bountiful as before.

Autumn is the culmination of all that has been pushing forth since spring. A fantastic feeding of fruits, grains, and vegetables that have come to fruition - fully formed and formidably flavorful.

My fall favorites for feasting? Baked goods made with Wisconsin apples and snacks comprised only of Wisconsin cheese.

Therefore, when autumn comes to Iowa that means it is time for our family to visit neighboring Wisconsin to stock up on ... what else? Apples and cheese. I think of it as our fall forage; my sons and husband think of it as "Mom will soon celebrate Pie Baking Day." This purely personal holiday occurs once (sometimes twice) a year with the date and time unknown other than this: It will most certainly happen on a Saturday or Sunday after we have gone to Gays Mills and Mt. Sterling for apples and cheese.

We took our annual trip today; so sometime soon - when the mood strikes me - I'll begin to peel, mix, fold, roll, and bake at least three to five apple pies with perhaps a pumpkin and a pecan provided for variety.

This annual autumn tradition began - for me - when I was a child. For Mark, it began the year we were engaged, and for the boys, the first fall of their respective births. This was the first year Skye didn't come along with us; and while he was missed, Mark and I knew his absence is part of that inevitable pulling away. He has experiences he wants to live that are separate from us. That's good. That's inevitable. Yet I also believe it is inevitable that part of him will always be called to cross the Mississippi River each fall to forage like his family has for decades.

Our family is back together tonight, and Skye couldn't wait to eat an apple cider donut and then munch on fresh cheese curds, listening to their freshness squeak in his mouth. Those experiences are part of him; I believe they will always call to him each fall when the days grow shorter, the air gets cooler and the land looks richer in a harvest-sort-of-way.

That's as it should be. We grow older. We teach our children what we choose to from all that our parents taught us, then our children choose what they will pass on to their children. But all in due season. I take comfort in that.

May what ripens for harvest in my son's lives be a culmination of only the best of all that has come before - only the best of my good fruits, brilliant and bountiful.

Amen. May it indeed be so.



P.S. Tina Schroyer Berg - It was so good to run into your family and to know that you, too, enjoy spending a glorious fall day (sunny, crisp 50º weather) together. Hunter looks like both you and Jim, but I think he especially favors you! Yay, North High class of ... (Well, you know. I don't need to say.) I hope you don't mind being featured in my vlog. I thought it was so fun that we just kept crossing paths!

Thursday, September 23, 2010

The Man is a Genius - I Have Proof

I realize that wives can sound biased in conversations regarding their husbands. Too many accolades can come off as too much ... uh ... too much ... well, let's just leave it at "too much."

But today I believe I found proof that my husband is a genius. At a minimum, I found proof that he is the kind of professional who stays abreast of the latest developments in his field - digital technology - and that he knows when to believe what is being touted in a trade journal and when to leave well enough alone.

Ok, I hear you, students who lived through the Jaz Drive era in the multimedia lab. He missed on that. But so did a lot of others. Therefore, I am very willing to cut him some slack.

Even with that Jaz Drive decision on his record, Mark still is a genius. I found the proof in a newspaper article titled "Cosmic Communications" from the Sunday, July 28, 1996, Mason City Globe Gazette. It was part of their 2001 North Iowa Economic Odyssey series. The article was written only a year or so after the Internet began to become part of daily life, and the reporter interviewed Mark along with other individuals regarded as local technology experts.

Please check out Mark's quote in the prediction box. While another individual shares the quote (not sure how that works), Mark's solitary genius is apparent in another portion of the article where he is credited with predicting that within five years, "company-wide 'intranets' will become more widely available for corporation insiders to use with a back door to their server on the Internet." Not bad. Actually pretty incredible.

I dare you to read Mark's "prediction" in the quote box and not wonder if he harbored some latent prototype designs that could have been cousins to today's Blackberry or iPhone. Most likely the iPhone or iPad, as he has always been a fan of Apple Computers. Always. Our first computing system was an Apple IIe. Now our youngest is using his confirmation money to purchase an iPad - with his father's blessing.

Really, check it out:

In the future, people will not only work at home with their personal computers, but probably will begin doing more computing with their television set.

There may be one unit capable of providing entertainment and completing work.

People will have the option of choosing with their remote control whether they want to just watch television or balance their checkbook or complete a homework assignment at the same time.

In time, the television, telephone and computer will all be melded together in one unit.

When I finished reading that today, I almost thought Mark might have possessed the ability - 14 years ago - to foresee how Stross would head into the bathroom to do his daily, every-four-hour cares, armed with his iPod and its storehouse of downloaded music, movies and television shows or his ongoing, interactive Facebook conversations and weather updates.

Our sons know their father's technological tendencies. In fact, they possess some of the same. So do many of Mark's former students. In the past 17 years, as Mark has learned, they have too; and those whose minds move like Mark's typically moved on to a career where technology motivates.

So, think what you will. Just know that when I read Mark's pull quote in this article today, I filled with pride. My husband is a genius.

Of course I knew that. But now I have proof.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Happy, Happy, Joy, Joy

From time to time I, Joy, receive a compliment that sounds exactly like this: “Your parents sure knew what they were doing when they named you.”

Or this: “You sure live up to your name.”

While I am flattered by such a comment, I am not compelled by a sense of obligation. Because my name is Joy, I do not have to be happy. In fact, sometimes, I am not. Sometimes being Joy means being sad or angry. Like last week, for instance, when my name could have been Distraught. That day I was distraught for the best part of an afternoon – until I learned that our insurance company was wrong (as I had suspected). We did not owe them thousands of dollars for four months worth of wrongfully paid healthcare expenses related to Stross’ daily living needs. Thank, God. We did not.

Once they verified the clerical error, I was relieved. Then, almost as immediately, I became extremely tired. Nineteen years worth of tired, in fact. For no matter how well my life might move along for stretches at a time, I know that I can be thrown into instant emotional upheaval over something as seemingly benign as a clerical error – even when I am 98% certain the error is not ours. A 2% portion of doubt can cause a unique version of terror (“Is this the moment we become financially bankrupt?”), even renewed grief. That will always be true. As the mother of a child born with life-shaping disabilities, I am familiar with sorrow and acquainted with grief.

In the instance I shared above, renewed grief looked like this: After the insurance representative apologized for the error, I began to cry. I cried awkward phone tears – the kind that choke your normal speaking voice and have the potential to scare the person who cannot see you. So I forced myself to speak. I didn’t want her to think I was crazy.

“I just want to thank you,” I said. “We will have a new insurance company in a few days, and our family will miss your company.” Sob. Choke. “You have taken good care of us. Especially our son. Thank you for that.” Choke. More tears. More forced words. “And I just want you to know we will miss you.”

It was her turn. She began gently and quietly.

“Oh. Thank you so much. That is very kind of you to say. We will miss you, too. … You know, I don’t even think I got your name before they passed your call to me.”

Now I had to forcefully push out words while trying to hold back a sob ... and a laugh.

“It’s … Joy.”

The irony of my name made me laugh. I could laugh. So could she – at meeting such a miserable Joy. Momentarily miserable, at least.

Let me be perfectly clear: My son’s life is not misery; I am not miserable because of him. Sometimes life brings things that make specific moments miserable. I learned how that can be so, courtesy of Stross, and I thank him for that.

But tonight I am thankful for a new type of understanding. Tonight I am aware that I am not happy. Not really. That also does not mean I am sad. Or depressed. I am just not happy – not content. And it has nothing to do with my children or my husband. It has everything to do with me.

Clarity about my unhappiness began September 7 when I was in Waverly to lead a media relations workshop for rural emergency first responders. The evening before the meeting, I enjoyed supper with some good friends who live there – reconnecting, through them, with periods in my life when I lived with a sense of purpose. Then, before returning home after the workshop the next day, I visited the Wartburg College campus to pick up a dessert and a cup of coffee for the road.

I didn’t go straight to the coffee house, however. I began walking campus. I let my feet take me places that looked new and yet were familiar. I felt the wonder of knowing exactly where I was, even when places looked different. Once I even tried to get lost, but I couldn’t. I knew exactly where I was going even when wandering aimlessly. And I loved the assurance of it.

Please understand. My assurance wasn’t about the physical location of my body as it moved through a familiar place. It came from another dimension. Moving through that familiar place helped me connect to a version of myself who knew exactly who she was and what she believed possible.

I found Happy Joy again. I had not realized I had left her behind.

Happy Joy has actually been with me for at least four decades – long past my days as a coed on that college campus. Of course, I remember her during our engagement, our wedding, our honeymoon, newlywed life, a first job, a second job that began to look like a career, a move back to Iowa, a job that was the start of a career, Stross’ birth (yes, Stross’ birth), and even during Stross’ early years.

Happy Joy even hung in there through some radical career changes for both Mark and me that resulted in a move to a town we likely would have never chosen to live in had a career opportunity for Mark not found him in an uncommon way. Happy Joy loved seeing Mark uncommonly happy, and she loved the challenge of finding a way to stay happy herself. She definitely loved giving birth to her second child, another son who brought her the opportunity to experience what other women did when they gave birth.

Now this is where I need to stop trying to explain where Happy Joy went; because, as I said earlier, she has been with me all along. What I have come to understand most recently, however, is this: Her happiness has not been a priority and that has adversely affected her – me – and our family. It might even be harming her and her future.

Because I know people who have wrestled with depression, I know avoiding depression is impossible. Fortunately, I am not depressed. But, as I said, I am not happy. Not really.

There is good news in this. Coming to the realization that I am not happy has helped me identify what gets me there: a sense of purpose, an opportunity to be an agent of change – positive change – that affects someone else’s life in a way they had not thought possible. Happy Joy shows up when I am being the truest version of myself, and in doing so, I cause something to happen that only I could make possible.

I can list examples of what that has looked like in the past. But I don’t want to here. My personal inventory is simply that: personal. Will I share it with you one day? You bet, but it will have to wait until I finish connecting all my dots. I might need to wander a few more familiar pathways and allow myself to reconnect to a few more times and places where I can remember what it has meant to be me.

But the best news is this: I have invited Happy Joy to join me on this journey. And I have given her a new name: Hope.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Birthday KISSes

I spent my 46th birthday doing something I would never have imagined in any previous year of life: I went to a KISS concert.

I had a fabulous time.

Perhaps I needed to wait until I was in my 40s for such an experience. Perhaps I simply wasn’t ready for the wonder that is glam rock when I was a teen.

As I recall my life in the 70s and 80s, songs were one thing – bands another. For instance, I remember singing along to every cut on Meatloaf’s Bat Out of Hell whenever someone played that cassette on a boom box, usually on a bus ride to something like a field trip, a speech competition, a music contest or a softball game. Every song on that album was (is) incredible. I found (and continue to find) the lyrical imagery of songs like Paradise by the Dashboard Lights and You Took the Words Right Out of My Mouth inspirational - poetically, metaphorically, and theatrically.

Seriously. For those who have ears to hear, rock has a heart. Heck, rock even has soul.

Still I could not bring myself to buy that revolutionary Meatloaf album so many years ago. A good girl like me simply could not own an album with such a hellish title. But what an awesome, awesome album. So awesome, in fact, that I finally broke down and bought it during my third decade of life. By then I didn’t even need to fool myself into believing that I only wanted it for workouts. I knew I just wanted to own it. Finally. For myself.

So imagine my adolescent conflict over a band that could make your heart ache with a ballad like Beth but was tagged with the demonic descriptor “Knights in Satan’s Service.” Instinct told me the erroneous moniker for KISS was overrated. Yet I remained cautious of being negatively affected by a band that was fronted by a gregarious “starchild” and a diabolical bass player who breathed fire and spit blood from a mouth that contained an extraordinarily long tongue.

I could never have owned one of their albums (as much as I would have loved to) let alone go to one of their concerts. Heavens! What would people have thought? What might have happened to me?

Evidently this year, at 46 years of age, I no longer cared, for I was ready to kiss caution a fond farewell and welcome the wonder of KISS. Credit for this lies squarely with my oldest son, Stross, a card-carrying member of the KISS Army who began lobbying for a KISS birthday celebration in my honor as soon as he learned the band would appear at the Minnesota State Fair –“on your birthday, Mom!” That pronouncement occurred shortly after Memorial Day; my birthday occurred on the Saturday of Labor Day weekend. I gave in to Stross’ suggestion just after Independence Day and then spent a few days musing over what I had done. Fortunately, it didn’t take long for me to understand that I was poised for one of my most magical birthdays ever. I was not wrong.

While I simply could not have gone to a KISS concert back when KISS first began reshaping the way music was made, somehow I could go to a concert of theirs as a grown, middle-aged woman in the company of her sons and her rocker-at-heart husband. I believe I became caught – once again – by Stross’ joy for the stuff of life. Such a gift. A wonderful birthday gift.

I cannot adequately convey how, as a teen, I was ill equipped to take in the multi-sensory sensationalism of a stadium filled with people who were ready to rock and roll all night and then party every day. Yet now I long for those kind of days, grateful that I can still introduce my children to the kinesthetic phenomenon that is KISS – a band no longer marked as Knights in Satan’s Service but, instead, revered as a group of 60-something super seniors (well, at least Paul and Gene) who are still able to capture the imaginations of everyone in a stadium while prancing across the stage in 40-pound glam costumes that feature 7” platform shoes and dramatic full-face make-up. And it must also be noted that they are still fully capable of flying into their light riggings to play soaring riffs that remind everyone that God really did give rock and roll for the pleasure of everyone.

That night, when the stadium lights went dark and the announcer requested that we all get ready for “the hottest band in the world,” I did not get goose bumps. However, when the stage lights came up and the music swelled, my eyes locked onto the lighted KISS backdrop – still a classic – and I involuntarily smiled the entire time a hydraulic lift slowly moved the band down to the stage amid thunderous applause and cheering. I was at a KISS concert. Me. Thank you, Stross.

That beautifully cool evening, one of summer’s last, was just right for an outdoor concert. A time to kiss things of the past goodbye while welcoming a new year of life – the 46th year of my birth. Of my life.

Had it been a hot summer night, I might even have been ready to offer my “throat to the wolf with the red roses.” But it wasn’t a night for Meatloaf. It was a night for KISSing. More specifically, for collecting birthday kisses – from my husband, my youngest son, my oldest son; and yes, ladies and gentleman, even – metaphorically – from “the hottest band in the world: KISS!”
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Who knows what the coming year will bring for me? Most likely, something I would never have been able to do when a young woman. And isn't that simply wonderful? Isn't that the way it should be?

Rock and roll, baby. I say, "Bring it on!"
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Saturday, September 4, 2010

My Birthday Gift to You

Stross has a beautiful singing voice. We are daily reminded of that, as he sings through most of his day. Sometimes, like when he is in the bathroom completing his daily medical cares, he sings with a full, robust voice.

However, Stross is an elusive singer. By that I mean that you have to catch him singing, and you have to be an audience he trusts. Command performances are not this thing.

Well, there was a night back in May when he serenaded Mark and I with his rendition of "Beth" by KISS. That was the first time he a sang solo for anyone; I am glad it was for us. The performance happened at his initiative, and it was wonderful. So sweet. So pure. But I wasn't able to record it for posterity.

So ... a few weeks later we were riding in the car as a family. It was Mark and my anniversary, and Stross told us he wanted to sing "Beth" for us again as our gift. Because Stross sits directly behind me in our van, he couldn't see that I had grabbed the Flip camera and was capturing his voice (and his chatter) as he sang. That's why the video looks strange. I added a special effect on the imagery to distort the seat upholstery and the side of my door. They were too distracting. I only wanted the audio. I only wanted to preserve the moments filled with Stross' singing.

That brings me to today.

Today - Sept. 4 - is my birthday. I can guarantee that Stross will offer to sing "Beth" for me again as a gift. Guaranteed. I promise I will tell you why I am so confident about this in a future blog - once I have proof that I am right. And, if I am wrong, I will tell you that too. (But I won't be wrong.)

And I am so looking forward to my gift.

Until then, I see no reason that Mark, Skye and I are the only ones able to enjoy the delight of Stross' gift of song.

Please consider this my birthday gift to you.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

The last ones dancing

Now that I have a Flip camera, it seems I have a difficult time not capturing certain moments of life as I see them unfolding. And so many things seem to unfold in the intense moments just before a bride walks down the aisle. Same for the intimate moments of the ceremony itself and the instantaneous moments that occur once the celebrating truly begins.

Our family attended the wedding of a former student near the end of August. I caught some of it on video; the bride gave me her blessing to share it with you. If you choose to watch it, you still won't be able to see what I saw. For, like other married persons, I experience weddings as a time of personal reflection. This day was no different. Well, other than the fact that on the way to the wedding, Mark and I argued in the car - loudly. Yes, we exposed our children to the nonsense of a marital fight. I would use the word "disagreement," but who would I be kidding? When a husband and a wife argue, it is a fight with words. Someone wants to win.

Am I ashamed our sons were captive to such? Yes. Does that mean Mark and I will never do such a thing again? I hope so. But odds are against it. We love intensely; we fight intensely. We make up reluctantly, but intentionally. We try to be sure our sons get to see the "it's all better" part too.

Of course I cannot remember what was so important to be right about. After all, winning is about being right. Right? It was something totally stupid, I am sure. I have a feeling if I ask either of our sons, they could tell me. But I won't ask. Who wants to dredge then reexamine stupidity? Not I.

What I do remember from that day is realizing that Mark and I are extremely different from the blushing bride and bursting-with-pride groom we were in 1986. On the Friday of Memorial Day weekend that year, we stood arm-in-arm, listening to the officiant of our wedding, Rev. Larry Trachte, declare that May 30 was "a day marked with joy." Then, as newlyweds during Mark's seminary years, we became Mark and Joy. I'd even say that the experiences of that time period turned us into Mark&Joy - a symbiotic couple whose relationship further deepened and solidified after a miscarriage and the birth of our first child only a few years later.

Nearly 25 years since we said our own "I dos" (I believe we actually said "I will"), it remains difficult to know where one of us ends and other other begins. That isn't necessarily good.

During the summer of 2000, we treated ourselves to some marriage counseling sessions and discovered how intensely entwined our relationship had become. We had not lost our individual identities, but we had to admit that Stross had caused Mark&Joy to become exponentially more important than either Mark or Joy.

That is still true today. In fact, I can't imagine it not being true, and I'm not sure if that is necessarily good, either. But it is, what it is, as they say.

Here is what I do know. When Mark takes a hit, I get bruised; and when I get cut, Mark bleeds. What's more, if someone dares to bare his or her teeth our direction, it is not clear which one of us will have the most difficult time not biting back.

On the day of this wedding, once we had time for tempers to cool - courtesy of a wedding aura - Mark and I welcomed the opportunity to come together at the invitation of the dj: "All married couples, come join the bride and groom for a special anniversary dance." And had we not willingly walked to the dance floor together, our sons would have insisted.

What occurred next, however, brought even more perspective. The dj kept announcing criteria for which couples could remain on the dance floor: "Everyone except the bride and groom who has been married X number of years or less, please have a seat." Finally, four announcements of time increments later, guess which couple was almost the last one dancing? Mark&Joy. According to the bride's estimate, we outlasted everyone but the groom's parents.

This silly dancing game reminded us that long marriages are, indeed, rare. And that, at nearly 25 years, our marriage might be as rare as we have always believed it to be.

When we vowed to spend our lives with one another one quarter of a century ago, we had no ability to comprehend how different we would be from the young man and young woman who stood facing each other, hand-in-hand that day. If that tall, handsome, smiley, Southern Baptist man came to find me today, I'm not sure I'd know what to do. I'm confident Mark would have the same difficulty if he found himself face to face with the dark-eyed, daintier, dimpled darling I used to be.

I wish I could have done a better job capturing all the moments that have shaped who we have become. But I would have needed a Flip camera capable of capturing faith. No piece of film, no byte of data can ever make that come to be. Memory even fails. But that doesn't matter, I will never forget what I have. It is exactly what I hoped for nearly 25 years ago: a life partner who continues to stand beside me no matter what life threatens to throw our way. And his faith in us and our future remains as fierce as it was so many years ago.

For a guy who grew up not going to dances, he's sure an incredible dancer. And I'm incredibly blessed to be the one who gets to dance with him. I sure hope we aren't taking it for granted that - as on the night of that wedding - we are becoming some of the last ones still dancing together.

"For I know the plans I have for you ... plans to prosper, and not to harm; plans for hope and a future."

Dear God, search us and know our hearts; test us and know our thoughts. See if there are any wicked ways in us, and lead us in the way everlasting. And, dear God, please keep us close. Allow us to keep feeling your heart while we dance for we wish to remain with you through it all - until the last ones dancing.
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Friday, August 27, 2010

A Simply Complex Personality

When Dr. Kelli Gardner taught in the psychology department at Waldorf College, she invited me to participate in an exercise for her Personality course. It involved allowing students to ask me questions – any questions they wanted – and then having them analyze what my answers might indicate about my personality.

Kelli, having read Involuntary Joy, correctly assessed that I would be open to such an exercise. “Not many people would be willing to do that, but I thought you might,” she had said.

Willing? How about eager? I loved the intent of her proposed exercise, and I think Kelli knew that I would.

I won’t lie. I won’t hide. And the safest topic for me to neither lie nor attempt to hide anything about is … well, me.

Is that a good thing? I like to think it is. In fact, I’m fairly Socratic that way. According to Socrates (c. 469 BC-399 BC), an “unexamined life is not worth living.” Centuries of philosophers have argued the meaning of his statement. I ascribe to the thought that living in denial of the motivations or circumstances that shape our thoughts and actions is a waste of time. A waste of life.

Life is each person’s best teacher. And, again like Socrates, I am fascinated by epistemology, or the nature and study of knowledge. Where does our knowledge come from? What do people believe they know? What do people know?

Ultimately: How do we know what we know?

Ironically, I have always thought one of my greatest personal strengths is my awareness that there are things I cannot claim to know. And once I identify an area of deficiency, I want to spend time collecting knowledge. I want to begin to understand. To know.

If you haven’t figured it out, the process of asking questions and then identifying answers invigorates me. And, as with the Personality course, answering questions about myself with honesty and integrity is exponentially more invigorating. If the reason I feel that way hasn’t become obvious to you, it soon will. Keep reading.

My life – as cliché as this will sound – is an open book. But each book is open to an individual reader’s interpretation, isn’t it? One person can read what is regarded as a classic – say Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn or Lousia May Alcott’s Little Women – and share in the awe of what those authors have brought to life on paper, while another person may declare their work as “drivel,” “inflammatory,” or even “scandalous.” Or take a more recent book: Eat, Pray, Love. Is it an inspirational memoir or a selfish diatribe? I guess it depends who you ask.

What is that about?

I guess I only know how it works with me. I am driven to examine my motivation, others’ motivations, my strengths, my weaknesses - even my personal demons. Mostly I love to search for the boundaries of the bigger picture, if you will; then wonder if boundaries actually exist.

As I’ve matured, I have witnessed – make that have experienced – that this manner of living can have consequences. My little sister, who has arguably watched firsthand longer than anyone else, recently said it this way: “Joy, you are a complex person who is difficult for people to understand. You like to use sunshine as a disinfectant and not everyone is comfortable with that."

Yep, that pretty much explains it. Except I think my approach is simple – not complex.

Let me clarify: I don’t see myself as a complex person. But can anyone really see himself or herself as others might? Probably not. So I must be – to some people anyway – complex. And, in fact, I am certain other words have been used to describe me as well. Recently I heard some fairly hurtful descriptors for me: “dark,” “snide,” “evil,” “backstabber.”

Had the words “arrogant,” “assertive,” “impulsive,” “forceful,” “passionate,” or even “selfish” been used – I’d cop to each one. I can be each of those. But I don’t believe I have “dark” or “evil” in me. And backstabbing someone is not my modus operandi. As probably too many people have learned, I am the person who will call you at home, walk to your office, or push for a chance to meet in person to talk through something that appears to be an issue of miscommunication. I want to deal with it in as simple a way possible – well, simple according to my complex way of being.

Oh, and if someone reading this believes that - contrary to what I just said - I've actually avoided having a conversation with you about something, that is likely true as well. But only because someone in authority told me they wished I would "drop it." (And it was really, really, really, really hard for me to honor his or her request.)

Remember the sunshine disinfectant? I want to get everything out in the open – to talk through things until it seems no more words can be said on a topic. I don’t wield anything other than words. However, I know words can cut like a knife. That’s why I try to choose my words well. Obviously, if I’m labeled by some as “evil,” “dark,” or “snide,” I’m not good enough at it. That’s likely why, sometimes, I simply end up making things a whole lot worse.

Crap.

Life really is more complex than I have wanted to believe that it is.

So, dear Socrates, what’s a girl – a woman – a mom – a daughter – a wife – a friend – a teacher – a writer – a student-of-life like me to do? Consider me as Plato or Aristotle. Consider me even as Theophilus, a friend and student of God, for, my dearest God: I want to know.

Let’s get busy talking, thinking, examining. Let’s not waste the essence of life.

I would like to believe I am capable of getting better at interacting with others. Of having their perceptions of who I am more closely resemble the person I believe myself to be. However, will achieving that end mean I will no longer get to be who I am called to be?

For instance, when asked my opinion, I will tell. When asked my thoughts on a topic or how I arrived at my understanding of that topic, I will tell that too.

I am not sure I can stop being who I am.

I mean: I don’t know if I am capable of not saying what I think - especially when I see an issue of injustice, inequity or ineptness. I may not wait to be asked my thoughts. I will likely simply say them – and I will also, most likely, be insensitive when I offer my opinion. That’s part of what it is to be me. It doesn’t mean I am not working on developing sensitivity. It simply means that my inability to be sensitive is rather complex.

I know insensitivity is wrong. I know arrogance and selfishness are wrong. Yet I find a way to be those things anyway – even if in socially acceptable ways. Like talking only about myself for more than an hour to a class of students taking a course called Personality - and loving that the whole time the focus was on me. Or writing a blog where I tell about my life using my thoughts about issues that matter – if only to me.

Finding a way to be accepted for who you are. It’s as simple as that, isn’t it? Or it is simply that complex.

I used to think that life was simple. Now I live the complexity of life.

And I guess that – as with the Personality course and my personal blog – I need to find a safe place to be me, for an unexamined life is a waste of life; and it is nearly impossible to examine something sufficiently while living in shadows or places where light and sunshine disinfectant are not appreciated. As my little sister reminded, not everyone is comfortable with that. Well, let’s be totally honest: They are not comfortable with me.

As I approach my 46th year of life, I am keenly aware that I have a whole lot more life to live – days not meant to be wasted, but fully examined and used in a manner to which I feel called. It is really that simple – or it’s that complex.

How about this: When I figure it out, I’ll let you know. I’d love to tell you all about it. (Did you have any doubt?)

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

August: My Quiet Place

I am in a quiet place again, wondering if this state of mind may be one of my life's seasonal certainties - unavoidable August, if you will. My least favorite month of the year.

My youngest son might take offense at such a label, for one of the Augusts of my life brought him into our family. And other than the long days of doctor-ordered rest that were prescribed to combat pre-term labor, that August was pretty fantastic. Almost like the Augusts of my childhood.

When I was a youth, my parents - both history teachers with an affinity for America - took my sister and me on epic tent-camping vacations throughout the country at the start of each August. One year my dad had us follow the path (sometimes the actual ruts) of the Oregon Trail. Another year we visited as many national parks and landmarks as possible in two weeks: Badlands, Mt. Rushmore, Yellowstone, Glacier, Grand Tetons. The August before my 16th birthday, the summer that Christopher Reeve and Jane Seymour starred in Somewhere in Time, my parents took us to Mackinaw Island, the film's romantic location, where they tolerated my teen angst while wondering how many more years I'd willingly join them.

No matter the arc of our journey, our travels would always bring us back by mid-August in time for the Fayette County Fair. I would spend that week of August helping my dad coordinate and run all the fair's special activities: horseshoe tournament, spelling bee, rolling pin throw, nail driving contest, sack race, pancake flipping contest, and an amazing amount of events more. Those were really good Augusts. Even the August prior to my 8th grade year when - sometime during my responsibilities at the fair - I discovered that I would need to begin shopping in the feminine hygiene aisle.

Where did those awesome Augusts go?

This many years later, even that august supply aisle is a distant memory. I wonder when August began to feel like an obstacle - a time to live through in order to get to some place else.

When the words "quiet place" announced themselves in my mind today, I remembered that I had written a blog with the same title already. I searched to learn when and discovered that I had written that
A Quiet Place
blog during one of my life's Augusts: 2007.

Even that particular quiet place seems a lifetime ago; and in a way, it is. Involuntary Joy had just come out, and I had decided to move ahead with its second printing. By the next August, I had voluntarily put the book's momentum on hold to answer what I had perceived as a vocational call. Evidently I was in such a quiet place that August - 2008 - that I wrote no blog entries at all that month. But then, in mid-September, I emptied my heart into a blog that spoke of my frustrations as I hoped for a future.

And then there is last year's August - August of 2009. In the months previous to that August, I had fallen into such a quiet place, that I'd gone fully silent. I had written only one blog entry in May and one in June; both were republished pieces that I had originally written for others. But by September I was ready to live out loud again, letting go of things that no longer fit while looking for new undertakings to replace what felt lost.

From then until now, this InjoyBlog has been my lifeline. A safe place to be me: candid, introspective, honest, analytical ... vulnerable. I hope I can keep it that way. I hope I can resist the urge to fall deeply quiet again. Or maybe being quiet for a time - especially in August - is inevitable. Maybe it's my August thing.

Those of you who follow my InjoyBlog regularly - officially or unofficially - might recall that I regard birthdays as High Holy Days. Well, guess what. September is coming and all that month means to me: a time of review, renewal and rebirth.

I can hardly wait. Perhaps that is why I am in a quiet place. Perhaps this is my August of Anticipation. I hope so. And I guess there is only one way to find out: I plan to listen for lessons that linger in this August air, waiting for September to arrive.

September. My favorite month of the year.

Hey, September. I am looking forward to you and the possibility that you might bring a new way to live - maybe even a way that makes the month of August pretty awesome again.

Amen. May it indeed be so.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Sweet Corn: It's an Iowa Thing

Iowans take many things for granted: four distinct seasons, quality education, beautiful sunsets, lush vegetation, family farms, county fairs, a median city population of less than 500 (true!), and sweet corn.

Sure, we may occasionally take a moment here and there to quietly breathe a humble breath of Iowa thanks. But in the same way that you can't recognize how tall your child has grown without looking at last year's photos, Iowans can't always recognize how blessed we are to live in a state where - as a friend who recently returned here for a visit said - "it is so green your eyes hurt."

A short drive on any Iowa highway is a reminder that farmers defined the boundaries of Iowa's interior expanses. They cultivated acres and acres of soil whose beautifully blooming prairie flowers hinted at the rich potential awaiting their labors. Farmers continue to define Iowa. If anyone doubts that, just watch what happens when August rolls around acting like a plentiful prelude to a promise-filled harvest season.

Few can understand the cultural connectedness of Iowa's agrarian heritage. How families gather to share in traditions shaped by food. And not just any food, but food from a land of bountiful blessings: hog roasts, strawberry festivals, beef barbecues, sweet corn feeds. Each gathering a celebration of food and the abundance of life lived well.

For our family, the first week of August typically means a trip to my aunt's and uncle's farm to freeze sweet corn. This year we - my family, my parents, my aunt and uncle, my cousins and their children - packaged more than 130 quarts. And while we picked, husked, silked, boiled, cooled, cut, and packaged, we also talked, remembering what it means to be related and remembering how to relax even when your body has grown tired from a good afternoon of shared labor.

Thanks, Aunt Lois and Uncle Chuck. Our freezer is full, but our hearts more so.

Sweet corn. Sweet life. It's an Iowa thing.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Graduation Tree House Celebration 2010

Life has an ebb and flow. A yin and yang, if you will. In academia, that can be illustrated in many ways. However, one of the most profound ways for me each year is when one class of students graduates, then only weeks later another arrives.

Quite a few of this year's class left right after graduation in May. However, a handful of students - those who took their studies as part of Waldorf College's three-year communications degree - completed their 8th semester this past week. And, like every year before, we enjoyed a celebration barbecue with them in our tree house to honor their accomplishments. Also as in years past, we were pleased to have a reason to spend just a little more time with our graduates before each one drove off campus for the last time as a student.

I have yet to meet the incoming freshmen. But I know fairly well those who just graduated and left Waldorf College to encounter their future: Brandon Aschinger, Andrew Blum, Mary Dickman, Robert Farland, Andrew Johnson and Tyler Snell. Thank you for sharing your lives with us. We are richer for it. Please keep in touch. We will love to learn where life leads you.

May heaven's richest blessings, crown every passing year.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Stross Goes to Scout Camp: The Complete Series

There are about 800 copies of Involuntary Joy in circulation. Those of you who have read it know that it tells the story of my first five years of motherhood. But it is not only a mommy memoir. It recounts how Mark and I met and how we forged the earliest years of our marriage. It also shares what happened to us individually as we navigated the perfect storm that Stross' birth set in motion, and how we learned to grieve things that we couldn't fully understand we had lost. Perhaps it also shows how we - somehow - have managed to stay together.

My motivation for writing Involuntary Joy was simply to tell a story that life had not yet allowed us to share. I sensed there were countless other families in the same situation - wanting people to know what had happened to our lives because of a child with extraordinary needs. I was simply willing to bare it all. To write things that people sometimes fear to say aloud.

It struck me that I did that again this week by sharing my day-by-day account of what it took for us to get Stross through Boy Scout Camp. These blogs have come the closest to me writing the sequel to Involuntary Joy that I sometimes get asked about. And unlike a book, you get the videos too, so you can see and hear Stross for yourself.

Maybe there will be a real sequel to Involuntary Joy one day. I don't know. I guess I would first have to know that people would really want to read it. But please know this. I am deeply thankful to those of you who traveled our Boy Scout experience with us. You dared to share in our vulnerabilities, and I trust that you - in some way - felt it worth your time.

I believe it is too easy to look, smile, and then either say or think something like: "I don't know how you do it." Or, "God never gives you more than you can handle, does he?" Or, "I admire you. I sure couldn't do what you do." Or even, "Such a blessing. God knew what he was doing when he gave Stross to you."

When I mentally prepare my response, I always - always - resist the urge to rebuff. I know that the person who is sharing the statement intends it as a compliment. I know that. I do. But it always feels like Mark's and my experiences have been lessened in someway - edited to a manageable Hallmark After School Special.

What I hope to accomplish whenever I write about Stross is to invite others to really share the stuff of our lives. It's my way of saying:

• Do you really want to know how I do it?

• Have you ever taken the time to really consider what you would do, the choices you would make, how you would live your life differently because many things you took for granted are no more?

• Do you want to know what I think about your notion of a providential God?

• What is your idea of a blessing? Let's compare notes and allow me to show you how far down the rabbit hole goes.

So, thank you, again, for taking the time to share in our lives this past week as we lived through the range of emotions and experiences of Boy Scout Camp. I am strengthened by your companionship on our family's journey.

When I get the chance to speak to students, educators or medical professionals, I try to explain what it means to live as if life is ready to swirl into a perfect storm. It may seem cliche, but it remains the best metaphor I have for sharing the turmoil of life with a child who has disabilities. Finances, marriage, employment, friends & family, faith - it all regularly gets thrown into turmoil around some issue that places your child in the eye of the storm.

If you know of a family who is also moving through life amid a perfect storm, please share this series with them. It might renew their hope in the future as it has for me. Or it might, simply, let them know they are not alone. And, if you are able to share with them any new insights it has provided you about how they might be moving through life, your words will come as a valued gift. Remember to use these words: "Is that how you might feel too? I guess I haven't known."

I don't know when I'll have such a series to share again, but I will continue to regularly post about our everyday lives. I look forward to "seeing" you whenever you come.


Stross Goes to Scout Camp: Day 1


Stross Goes to Scout Camp: Day 2


Stross Goes to Scout Camp: Day 3

Stross Goes to Scout Camp: Day 4

Stross Goes to Scout Camp: Day 5

Stross Goes to Scout Camp: Day 6

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