Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Tired Today

It's one of those days.

Perhaps it's the antihistamine kicking in (even though it's supposed to be non-drowsy) or whatever makes me feel like I need an antihistamine (mini-cold? allergy?) or - maybe - I'm just plain tired.

Taking three masters level courses, completing the unending homework because of those courses, facilitating my family's needs (including one who has special needs), feeling compelled to help with some volunteer work where I believe I can make a difference ... a bunch of other stuff. Yeah, I'm probably just tired. But why does fulfilling a day's demands seem so monumental sometimes?

Today, I've decided to just keep putting one foot in front of the other. And it is an intentional decision, otherwise, I'd just take a nap. (I probably will still take a nap, who am I kidding?)

I've decided that whatever I accomplish while awake today is in honor of a friend whose Facebook status yesterday was "Chemo is really kicking me in the butt" and Olympic figure skater Joannie Rochette of Canada who skated so beautifully last night only two days after her mother's death.

I cannot describe that moment or see it replayed on tv without refreshing the tears that fell so freely last night as she skated. Few life moments are packed as full as hers were during the two to three minutes she moved across that Olympic ice. I feel deeply honored to have shared that moment as she lived it openly before the world.

O.k. That did it. Simply typing that paragraph made me cry.

Divine moments. Divine times. I'm never too tired for those. I hope you aren't either.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Pet Peeves & Misunderstandings

I'm sure there are things more frustrating than seeing a green house that clashes with the grass or being misunderstood, but today I cannot think of them. And today I'd count being misunderstood a much greater misfortune than seeing a green house that clashes with the color of the grass.

Can I articulate why green houses annoy me so much? Evidently not, for I watched my vlog and thought: "Well, that's doesn't really explain anything. At least not to the degree I hoped it would."

Can I articulate why I'm so frustrated with the phenomena of being misunderstood? Probably not any better than I can help you understand my pet peeve about green houses.

On a good day - if allowed to keep talking until I got it right - I might be able to accomplish it orally. Either that or I'd become hoarse and quit talking. (Who am I kidding? I'd probably not even stop talking when hoarse if I didn't feel I'd accomplished being understood.)

Maybe I could do better in written communication than oral. Maybe.

And let's be perfectly clear here (if I can be perfectly clear): I'm not talking about winning an argument. I'm talking about being understood. Period.

We don't usually get to rehearse how we say things in life, do we? Perhaps wise people practice in the protected silence of their thoughts. But usually we live, experience, react and speak as our thoughts as they come to us. We live our reaction. Not process it then act.

(Crap. That didn't even seem like it made sense.)

I hope you know what I mean.

I also hope you have times where you struggle to be understood. If so, that means I'm not alone in my fight with the futility of frustration.

I hope - ultimately - our efforts at communication aren't futile at all. Everyone deserves to be understood. Even the worst communicators in the world. Or the best communicators on their worst days.

You know what I mean? I hope so.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

What's Up with Second Place?

I didn't get to watch what happened to Lindsey Jacobellis as she attempted to earn a gold medal in Vancouver during the snowboard cross finals Tuesday night, but I sure heard about it this morning on the news. I would like her to know that my spirit is with her as she - hopefully - ignores the media replays of her gold-medal-miss-mishap in Torino and her off-track-means-no-medal mishap last night. And I'm guessing that there are plenty of others like me who, being well-acquainted with life's second-tier moments, feel our inner demons commiserating with hers.

I would assume that Jacobellis has been working toward her goal of gold-medal redemption for the better part of the past four years. And now what? Now she has to integrate what actually happened with whatever she chooses to do next.

We've all been there at some point, haven't we. And we all know how difficult those regrouping days can be. Actually, I think "difficult" might be too inadequate a word for the type of grief and soul searching she must experience before she feels ready to move forward again.

Surely, as a winner of many titles and medals - including lots of gold, Jacobellis knows that she is gold medal material - even if it's not Olympic gold. Still, she has to wonder why Olympic gold has eluded her. I know I would if wearing her same ski boots.

Because I have this way of making life all about me, the replaying of Jacobellis' Torino finish this morning reminded me of my own second place finishes in life - three in particular that I experienced before my 18th birthday. Each memory earned gray matter space for a quirky reason: In each instance, a panel of judges almost awarded me the top honor, but then a coin flip or some unknown rationale found me claiming second – not first – place.

I wonder if that's why I stopped looking for opportunities to compete at all – at least where panels of judges are concerned. I also wonder if that has helped me as the parent of a child with disabilities. Perhaps I learned to dismiss assertions that smacked of subjectivity long, long ago.

"You want to believe that something you do or you have or that you believe you are is better than mine? Go ahead. I won't tell you differently."

Well, truth be told, I might try to tell you in a subtle, questioning sort of way, but I won't keep trying for long. What's the point?

Life isn't about winning. Life isn't about judging. Life isn't about being better than somebody else.

Life is about love, as unapologetically corny as that sounds.

Love what you are doing. Love who you are with. Love who you are: an incredible child, created by God for the good of the universe.

I believe that piece of advice is as good as ... no, wait a minute: It is better than - gold.

Monday, February 15, 2010

The Effect of Music and Memories

I'm not really sure what to say about this vlog other than it is the first time Mark has appeared with me on camera for such a soul-exposing experience, and that is a bigger deal than you know.

My soul mate is a pretty private guy, but I detected an opportunity to receive an affirmative answer to a vlog invitation during the intermission of Godspell on Saturday night at our college. Buoyed by the satisfying feeling of a delicious meal and the renewing effect of musical memories, Mark softened into a answer that wasn't "no."

When we we got home, I simply got the computer and he began to set the shot. Note that he chose for us to share a chair. What a clever man. Is he pleased with the framing? No, but we were operating with the understanding that we were living a carpe diem moment, and it was time to capture memories, not create flawless video. (Take note, video students. Maybe you can try that excuse sometime when your composition is questionable. I don't think it will work, but you can try.)

Those of you who've known us since our courtship or newlywed years probably still hold memories of a quiet Mark. Certainly I did far more talking in the early years of our relationship than he did. Yet, one of the fascinating aspects of who we are as a couple is that conversation is always easy regardless of who is manufacturing and distributing the words. Those who don't know us well likely believe that I'm the one who does the majority of talking. Au contraire. Mark does a great deal of the communicating. He simply is more efficient with words and able to convey more with less. Do I talk more? Yes. Does Mark communicate more? Yes.

Since you may be more attuned to joyisms than markable moments, allow me to offer you hints of what to look for:
• His eye contact as I talk.
• His instant smile when I put my arm around his shoulder.
• His sense of fun and playfulness.
• His ability to mention a touchy topic without the need to explore further. (Theological discussion anyone?)
• His willingness to be vulnerable. (You just gotta love a man who admits to getting teary and nostalgic.)
• His ability to patiently listen at times when he senses my need for "me to be me."
• His capacity to simply let me be me.

Which leads me to this: I cannot hold back from pointing out my capacity to remember a date v. Mark's. To Mark, a date on a calendar doesn't matter as much as a memory and what that memory represents. For me, I need the fact verified before life can proceed and be credited as valid. But I'm glad I wasn't hung up on it Saturday night. As Mark began to reflect on his own musical experience, I knew he wasn't correct about the year he appeared in Godspell at the Waterloo Community Playhouse. I also knew it didn't matter. What mattered was that he was sharing what it had meant to him then and now.
He, like me, is fascinated by the fact that we appeared in the same musical prior to knowing each other. And that it was this musical that lead to our eventual meeting and courtship. The music director for Mark's production owned the restaurant where we met as singing waiters. Meeting this man-Larry Kussatz-led to Mark's eventual invitation to become a singing waiter. Therefore, had Mark not earned a role in the December 1982 production of Godspell, our paths might have never crossed.

And so - there we sat Saturday night - sitting side-by-side while singing along with every song as we privately heard them playing to different pit bands for the same show.

Mark is so fun to talk to and to share life with. I'm glad I captured such a moment and locked it in time. Also, a shout out to the cast of North High School's 1981 production. What a fantastic experience. Thanks for wonder-filled memories.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Love - or, What Happened to Mark and Joy?

It is practically impossible to avoid the topic of love this time of year, isn't it? On Friday, I was compelled to record my thoughts on the topic. Here's what bubbled forth.

What happened to Mark and Joy? I am not fully sure. If I had to sum it up in a word: Love. Love happened to Mark and Joy. And I'm so grateful. I'll never be the same.

Stay tuned for how we celebrated Valentine's Day. I'll post it sometime tomorrow. And guess what? Mark vlogged with me! Truly. Now that's love.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Mr. Craig Bennett - Thanks for Staying Connected

Last weekend I did something that too often I only talk about doing. I called a friend I hadn't seen in years with an invitation to drop by so we could spend the evening reconnecting. Even though Mr. Craig Bennett and I grew up only eight miles apart, we didn't connect in a real way until our college years. In fact, after the conversation we had last Saturday night, I think we might even agree that we may only be connecting in a real way now, for we are now both old enough to understand the inherent risks of being real.

I think you'll see what I mean.

It's taken me awhile to get this video placed into my blog.
• First, I had to edit our wealth of wonderful words to no more than 10 minutes.
• Second, I had to convince myself it would be o.k. to post it to YouTube in order to share it that way. You see, as open as I am with sharing whatever might bubble forth, you might have noticed that I've kept my vlogs off the wide wonderful world of YouTube. Plus, it won't let me rename my channel to match my blog, so welcome to my WestOnion.
• Finally, I accepted Craig's invitation to not hold myself back. "You know, Joy, you are the only one holding yourself back from what you really want to do," said my cunning friend Craig. He is absolutely right. Perhaps this merging of my blog and my YouTube channel (previously used simply to send video to grandparents) is my coming out. That means I'm no longer holding back. But it also means I really need to figure out what I want to do next.

Can you hear me, Inner Scarlett? We'll have to think about that tomorrow. After all, tomorrow is another day: Valentines Day even. A great day to both cherish and ponder your heart's desire.

Until then ... thanks, Craig, for a fantastic evening. So glad we remain connected. My life would be less without you in it.

Note: I now need to figure out how to make my HD framing fit in a standard YouTube window. At least it didn't cut out Craig! Oh, so much for an old dog to learn.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

"When I Was Famous"

This past weekend I had the pleasure of a chance encounter that took me delightfully back to a time my oldest son refers to as "when you were famous." Just after watching my son perform with his choral reading group at the State Large Group Speech Contest in Decorah, I headed into a nearby ladies restroom. Immediately upon entering the door, I locked eyes with Gwen Silhacheck, a musician who - in addition to a vast number of other musical endeavors in life - was once the keyboardist for musical theatre productions performed by the Country Road Players. The year I was Nellie Forbush and her husband, Dan, was Emile deBeque in South Pacific, Gwen watched me kiss her husband several times a night. (I assure you, it was weirder for me than for her - nothing against you, Dan.)

This past Saturday, years dropped as we came to each other and embraced before exchanging news about each of our families. Yes, Dan was with her. No, they didn't have a child performing, but she had several students performing, and they came to show their support. Yes, they had been spending their day watching all of the entries in the musical theatre category. Yes, the Country Road Players still have productions occasionally, but not multiple times a year like they did when I was spending my summers with them in Spillville, Iowa. Yes, they would love a reunion too, and many have been talking about that. Would I be available to come reprise a show or scene? "You bet! When can I come?"

When I caught up with my boys, they knew by the light in my eyes I was feeling younger and more vital. Mark smiled at my renewed sense of drama for all of life as I shared the news of my encounter, and Stross smiled with recognition at Dan's role in South Pacific. "Oh, he knew you back when you were famous, Momma."

I absolutely love it when he does that for me. To Stross, I will always be a famous person who happened to become his mother. I desperately wish all moms could know what that feels like. It's such a paradoxical moment.

Stross references that time when I was young enough and unencumbered by relationships or jobs or plans as if fame was, of course, where I was headed in life. He's watched the shows - all my shows - first on aging videotape and then on DVDs (thank you, Mark!); and based on what he has seen, I was famous. So maybe I was.

And just so you know: Stross is famous too. I love that about him even more. Stross lives his life as one big adventure film with days full of things like ... well, today it's a curling contest at a pond sponsored by the college's paintball club. That event is today's featured attraction. I wish you could feel his excitement. It's truly palpable. And, basically, he will probably watch most of the action, vicariously living the thrills as he sees them.

If we (probably Mark) can figure out a way for him to actually be in the thick of things, we will. But discovering how that might be is an adventure in and of itself. Snow, cold, metal wheelchair, skinny tires, bulky clothing, large snow banks, ice. We'll see. If I ask Stross, he'll be sure there is a way. So there probably is. I'll try to remember to let you know.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

If Bowser Can Survive, You Can Too!

We, probably like the majority of you, are crawling out of the fourth major snow event of this winter. Unlike the last three, this one missed classification as a blizzard, but it sure lived up to its billing as a major snowstorm. And who am I kidding? Mark is the one dealing with the increasingly difficult task of where to put all the snow. My only practical discomfort related to snow is timing trips for errands and helping the boys think of things to occupy their time. Believe me, I can think of things...

I've found myself commiserating with local municipalities as they tackle the burden of snow removal with no money left in the budget for such a task. But the snow has to go somewhere, doesn't it? And we want our elected and appointed officials to take care of us so we can get to our jobs, the kids can get to school, and everyone can get somewhere to shop. Next time you see a snowplow go by, please smile and wave. They are using your tax dollars well.

Where will all this snow go until it can melt, anyway? Even the rivers are getting full. It can stay banked for a while, but these banks are becoming quite high. The last time I remember marveling at banks of snow more than 4 to 5 ft. high was in elementary about 30 some years ago, and the memory-making trip to Ottumwa in 1982 that I told you about in a previous blog. Decades after those experiences I remain awestruck at the paradoxical beauty of dangerously high snow mounds.

I'm also struck by our human capacity to survive - physically and metaphorically. So many individuals - families, even - are struggling to survive financially amid daunting work and health conditions. Quality of life can feel elusive when facing the need to work at a job that is just that - a job more than a career or even a passion. But it's necessary, isn't it, if for no other reason than to earn enough money to pay bills. Paying the bills allows a family to remain in their home and to provide for food, health care and items needed to sustain daily needs. Such a conundrum. (Isn't that a great word?)

We had a great metaphorical lesson in surviving last week thanks to Bowser, Skye's hermit crab. He's been with us since late summer, and the sales associate at Petco warned us how difficult it is to keep hermit crabs alive through an Iowa winter. I'm troubled by the means we've gone to for his survivability, namely a 24-hr rock heater inside his habitat and a 24-hr space heater outside. But, he needs 70- to 80-degree air temps with 70-degree humidity. And no one in our family is a hermit crab killer. I simply hope we are practicing enough green living to offset the increase in our carbon footprint directly connected to Bowser.

I'll let Skye tell you in his own words what happened last week - the week I decided to stop reminding him to take care Bowser or he would never learn the lessons about responsibility that come with pet care. Yes, before I withheld my parental guidance, I did inform Skye I wasn't going to remind him anymore. In turn, he informed me that he had not needed the reminders anyway.

Again, I'll let him tell you the rest of the story. Well, ok, I do want to share this: Skye also learned that ground is hard to find in the deep of winter; and even if you unearth some, it is too frozen for a grave. (Can you say "ashes to ashes' for a crustacean, anyway?)

Good thing we didn't need to add to the landfill, either. I've become fond of Bowser. He's a survivor like the rest of us.


Thursday, February 4, 2010

Just an Update

Well, I haven't had a chance to change my blog, yet. I will get around to it, however, so that I'll have - as Ms. Ginny Ray says - a more "grown-up blog." (Don't worry, I know what she means, and I agree. Totally.)

I have something written in my head that provides context for the three minutes that anyone who watches this will endure, but unfortunately, I have no time to write it. I really have to get as much of my homework done before I get a call from Stross that he needs to be picked up. We can't afford to get off our family schedule today.

I'll just write this:

Ms. Tiffany Olson makes a cameo in the vlog today. Alumni, you'll love that. Thanks so much for asking me to go to lunch, Tiff. It's important we do those kinds of things and not just talk about doing them. I am looking forward to May/June when I'll be teaching with you as a colleague again. It's still just a bit complicated, and I'm so grateful you understand.

And, yes, when you watch this you'll see that I edited some remarks out. The topic I brought up - marriage dynamics in the midst of change - aren't ready for primetime, as they say. The topic is more than complicated. I will talk about it sometime, for it's too important not to. Mark and I have always lived an enmeshed existence; we don't always know what that means for us as individuals or as a couple. That's the part I consider more than complicated. Through it all, I continue to be deeply grateful for the man who is my life partner and that we are weathering both our separate and shared times of change together. homework!

Monday, February 1, 2010


I have thought about posting some things but am frustrated by Blogger's inability to play what I have on here now. So what's the point?

I plan to address this issue somehow, even if it means abandoning this blog to start a new one. Might as well, huh?

Until I get things resolved, I'll keep taping and writing, even if I'm not posting.

Please stay tuned.