Archives for February 2013

On dogs and how (not) to clean up a mess

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Last night, I discovered the dog snuck into my daughter’s school back pack and ate a cupcake she had stuffed away for later. I would say she hid it, but once we found the cupcake wrapper chewed up and strewn across the floor, she informed me she was “saving” it for another day. The dog then developed some sort of stomach discomfort as evidenced by the heavy sighing and jumping at the foot of my bed all night long. I discovered this stomach issue after receiving a call from the groomers this morning, informing me I had forgotten the dog’s appointment. I apologized in one of the five German words I know, and rushed the dog to the car only to discover the street blocked by an unmanned cement truck. I don’t know German for Move That Truck, so I parked and decided to run all the way to the groomers with a short-legged dog nursing a stomach ailment, unbeknownst to me.

Ten minutes, a few confused pedestrian looks, and one explosive doggy diarrheal episode later, I arrived at the groomers and realized the dog’s hind quarters looked filthy from the aforementioned episode. Prior to leaving the house, in a move I can only describe as moronic, I removed the two packets of tissues I keep in my coat pocket. But, I remembered to bring a plastic poo bag, so I put my considerable improvisational skills to work, and I wiped him down with an orange plastic bag the size of my palm. Yeah. To call it ineffective would be an understatement. I gave up at this point and opened the door to find the groomer glaring at me from behind a security gate and her own crossed arms. This is one of the few times a language barrier feels like a blessing and not the bane of my existence.

I don’t know what transpired while the groomer cut the dog’s hair, but she seemed exceedingly happy when I arrived on time to pick him up. This is the last haircut he’ll get before we move back to the US. It seems fitting to go out on this note–a little late, a little embarrassed, a little bit of a mess.

How we take shape

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I finished reading To Kill a Mockingbird over the weekend, and now, finally, all of the references I’ve heard over the years about a certain Boo Radley and one, Atticus Finch, no longer remain a mystery. Boo eludes me no more. In an attempt to make up for a rather dire high school English experience, I occasionally like to throw a classic book into my to-be read pile. Last week, Harper Lee and I got to know one another, and she captivated me with her small town story. In real life, I have a love/hate relationship with small towns, but I’m always drawn to them in fiction, and Lee’s Maycomb, Alabama felt like a living, breathing character in the book. You could almost hear the town sigh and groan under the weight of its residents and their activities.

I have a lot of extended family living in little towns in the deep South, and if not for a twist of fate, or more likely the Holy Spirit, I would currently be raising a quiver full of kids in a town called Bunky. Instead, I live in Europe, the product of a mediocre education in the north east and a relationship in which I obviously married up. But, something about small towns and staying put and knowing the knots in every tree on the block, draws out the kid in me. It reminds me of summers spent in the sweltering heat of the South. Slow drawls come to mind. As do pecan trees and spanish moss and hospitality bent on serving you a side of gossip with more food than you can possibly eat, all washed down with a glass of sweet iced tea. I regret the years I refused to visit. I regret more, the years I visited, and wished the summer away by complaining and dreaming of the moment I’d set foot back in my own Pennsylvania home.

As an adult, I don’t long for small town living, but I do long to know what it feels like to belong to a place, to feel the heave and sigh of it, to remember the names carved into the cemetery stones. My husband thinks I’m searching for a place that doesn’t exist, my very own Stars Hollow or Maycomb or Mayberry. And I’m not sure if these places don’t exist, so much as I don’t know how to exist in such a place. I’m too prone to wander to find out.

Lately, I’ve given a lot of thought to place and roots and what it all means. I have far more questions than I will ever have answers. To Kill a Mockingbird peeled back another layer for me, exposing more about the ways our town and neighbors and cultural norms shape us. I want to know more. Maybe you can teach me?

Tell me a little bit about where you’re from, where you’ve been, or where you’re going. How has place shaped you?

Five Minute Friday: What Mama did

Hello, Friends! Welcome back for another Friday spent withLisa-Jo and the Five-minute crowd. Today, we’re taking five minutes to write on the prompt What Mama Did. Do you have five minutes to write, read, or both? Why don’t you join us?


1. Write for 5 minutes flat – no editing, no over thinking, no backtracking.
2. Link back here and invite others to join in.
3. And then absolutely, no ifs, ands or buts about it, you need to visit the person who linked up before you & encourage them in their comments. Seriously. That is, like, the rule. And the fun. And the heart of this community…

Today’s Prompt: What Mama did

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Growing up, evenings found her sitting in her usual spot on the corner of the sofa, legs tucked up beneath her, reading her Bible by the faint glow of the brass lamp. When her sweet tooth got the best of her, she would find a small bowl and throw a few chocolate chips in it. Savoring each one, letting them melt slowly in her mouth.

She hid Junior Mints in her purse, occasionally we’d find them when rummaging for something, anything, to eat on a Sunday morning when the worship service dragged long and our stomachs ached from growing pains and the insufficiency of Pop tarts made out to be a meal.

She was beautifully turned out every Sunday. No one would have guessed the mad dash to church, the wrangling of children, the way she used the red light method to paint her nails–hurriedly, one at a time before one of us shouted, The light’s green, Go Mom! I don’t think she’s ever had a manicure, or ever cared for one.

When life feels overwhelming, when I feel oversaturated with all the goodness and excess and beauty it has to offer, I think of my mother. Of quiet evenings, feet curled beneath her, reading the Good News. I remember melting chocolate, and small hidden treats of minty goodness, and a refrigerator shelf filled with bottles of nail polish. I think of my mom’s love for the simple things and how striving for more simply wasn’t a part of her DNA. And I know what it is to seek contentment with less.

Spending it all

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“One of the few things I know about writing is this: spend it all, shoot it, play it, lose it, all, right away, every time. Do not hoard what seems good for a later place… Something more will arise for later, something better…”

~Annie Dillard in The Writing Life

I read a story recently, about mothers and daughters and the stories we tell our children. I know the importance of stories, I’ve lived and breathed them from the moment I realized that black squiggles on a page congregate in the quiet and create words. As I read about this sharing of stories–how it leads to a deep knowing, how strings made of sentences bind us to one another–I thought about how much of myself I hoard.

I follow this one writer closely. If she’s writing, I’m reading. She spends herself every time, giving her best, her heartfelt, the things she holds dear. She teaches me how to let go, how to spend every word I have in the best way possible, how to live in faith. I hoard out of fear that nothing more will arise, that I have used up my meager talent and my vanilla stories and that the well of creativity doesn’t run as deep as I wish.

Around our house, we jokingly refer to my youngest as a hoarder. Her bedroom is a Pandora’s box of half-used notebooks, sparkly dresses, garish plastic cook wear, and snub nosed pencils. She hides bits and pieces of herself in every corner, but it’s impossible to distinguish the lovely from the rubbish. Her room, and I daresay her organizational skills, need an overhaul. She hides her stories in notebooks and shoves them into boxes and baskets all over the room, and we never quite know where to find one of her four tiaras or the plastic grapes. I have days where I stand at the door to her room and I want to cry. I think she doesn’t know where to begin, and neither do I.

I dress up my hoarding a little bit better. I throw on a pair of red lips and fancy boots and you’d never know the things I keep hidden in the recesses. Writing helps, it’s my way of organizing a wildly entertaining inner life that somehow looks less so, when it rises to the light at the surface. But even here, in the writing, I find I want to hold back. To hoard the best for later. To squeeze this precious treat tight into my hand until it melts and there is nothing left to eat but a sticky mess smeared into the crevices of my palm.

I do this in other places too. I hold back in the way that I love, the way that I worship, and the way that I express the deepest and most important parts of me. I gather the coins of my friendship for fear of spending them all in one place. I save the best story and file it away for “later”. I don’t trust love or my gifts or God enough to believe that once I go for broke, my empty pockets will expand with more gold, my old wineskins exchanged for those that bulge with new wine.

I sense a cleaning of the house is in order–a throwing away of the old, and a sharing of the new, the holy, the beautiful. May I have the faith to spend it all, every time.

How are you shooting it, playing it, and losing it all? If you’re not, what holds you back?

Sweating from my eyes

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The day started off with an argument and sped downhill from there, quite literally. We spent a few hours arguing over whether or not we would go skiing, upon finally making a (non-unanimous) family decision, we drove for 90 minutes from one ski resort to another during the height of the winter season while looking for a non-existent parking spot. We joined approximately 379 other cars filled to capacity with people and sledges and cock-eyed skis squashed into the boot of the car.

This particular ski day happened to fall on Fasnacht, a Swiss holiday celebrating who knows what, so we passed numerous floats and revelers dressed in matching costume. Some had clearly taken a touch of the drink already, and they proved it by offering my seven-year old a generous view of a rather rude hand gesture. It was an adult, Mommy! An adult! , she said. Oh, the innocence. She would be shocked at the irrational and inappropriate behavior some adults are driven to, namely by their spouses.

At this point, M and I decided this situation called for a do or die attitude. We were going to find a place to ski, even if it killed us, which it nearly did. As we drove, we spied a randomly placed ski lift rising a few feet away from the road. I couldn’t see the top, it disappeared into a wide expanse of white and pine. I could see the bottom of the run, which looked steep to my eye and led straight down into oncoming traffic–unless you have the ability to stop abruptly, which I do not possess.

I made it up, up, up the lift and promptly fell off. I also stopped speaking to my husband. I took one run down, in which I called out more than once to Jesus, and said some other things I would not want the seven-year old to hear. I fell. I freaked out a little. I got to the bottom and sweat poured down my back and I seriously considered flinging myself into the street in order to avoid going up once more. My son took one look at my face and said What’s wrong, Mom? And I said, Nothing, I’m just sweating. He responded, From your eyes?

Yes, I am “sweating from my eyes”, also known as crying. I made it up the mountain for one more run, salt stinging my face, nose running, legs trembling. With the bottom in sight, I breathed a sigh of relief and looked across at M skiing beside me, just as another skier barreled down the hill and flew into me at full speed. Limbs and skis flew through the air, and a nearby hiker hurried over to assess the damage. Needless to say, I didn’t make it back up the mountain that day. Instead, I hid my face while I continued to sweat from my eyes.

I don’t know where I got the idea that failure would look graceful, like a gentle swoop. It doesn’t. It looks like fear. And sweat. And people knocking you down just when you think I’ve. got. this. It looks like arms and legs flying in opposite directions, and sometimes it even looks like sitting on the sidelines while you watch everyone else strap their skis on again. In my case, it looks like an adult behaving in a manner they don’t want their kids to see. When we arrived home and I recovered my wits, my son said I’m proud of you, Mom. You tried. And some days, trying–however ungraceful it appears–is more than enough.