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Tuesday, September 11, 2012

By Myself

A lovely day awaits me. Perfect weather and lots of time to myself. There's a lump, though, in the back of my throat that won't go away. I get lost in memories of trudging through these same old streets when my boys were small. Everything was alive and wonderful—and it still is. It's just that I'm by myself now. I don't have little boys to share an ice cream with. Browsing the shelves of the toy store isn't very interesting. There's no need to stop and roll in the grass.

At Christmastime, they put up the most amazing merry-go-round. Even Christopher (10-years-old) wished he weren't too big to ride. Everybody told me to savor the raising-my-boys-years, and I did. I stayed up late, baked a lot of cookies, and read plenty of stories. I'm glad for that.

But it didn't slow down the clock. Now I'm at home writing and always in the back of my mind thinking about my boys. Is this dysfunctional in some way? Does it mean my life isn't full enough? Or have the years with them been so remarkable I'm forever wanting them back?

I'm a twin. Maybe that's why I never learned to be alone. I hate it the way some people hate vegetables or working out. I can take solitude only for a brief while before I go crazy.

For my birthday one year, my husband sent me to a monastery where the monks had taken a vow of silence. (I had actually requested this in order to "really get away.")  It was serene for about an hour. Then I read Wild Swans cover to cover. Then I tried to call home—something I'd promised not to do. The lack of wireless prevented me, so I started writing and talking to myself. By the time Tim's car appeared in the drive to pick me up, I felt worms crawling under my skin. I can't remember being so happy to see him.

I'm just no good at being by myself.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Waking from a Long, Long Sleep


 Metz is a beautiful place. Sometimes too beautiful. There are literally children playing in the gardens with balloons. Trash stays on the streets only for a few hours or so before street sweepers claim it. Flowers and trees are eternally in bloom. Even the sky is the perfect shade of blue.

We live in a small palace where cherubs smile down at us from the ceilings and begonias greet us from the window boxes. Sun streams in from 20-feet high windows flanked by silk drapes. Moroccan rugs cover our floors. We eat the finest cheeses and drink the best wines. And stress about who will walk the dog on the esplanade today.

There is something unreal about loveliness such as this. We are anesthetized from the hardships of life and feel ourselves growing soft. One day melts into the next in a serene dream-like state of non-existence. Stories of war and politics flash across the tv screen, but stay there as I sip my coffee and move lithely into the next room.

I miss Georgia, where I come from. But I was never at home when I lived there—I wanted France instead.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Sweet Surrender

After all the stress of living abroad, my husband and I finally started storming at each other. He left with the boys and I sat alone in a dark house sulking. The kids tell me that I stress-bake, and I'm pretty sure that's true. Within a few minutes I was rummaging through the refrigerator in search of inspiration. The only thing I found was a Tupperware container with 6 egg whites in it (I'd made sable for a party earlier in the week).

A couple of hours later, Tim called to say they were headed for home. By that time, my entire mood had shifted—I'd baked! We rented a movie, invited a friend and settled in to a truly delicious evening together.

Here's an awesome recipe for French Chocolate Macarons:

Cookies:
1 cup powdered sugar
1/2 cup powdered almonds (don't know if you can get this in the US, but you can grind your own in a food processor)
3 teaspoons cocoa powder
2 large egg whites
5 tablespoons castor sugar (fine white sugar)

Filling:
1/4 cup heavy cream
1 teaspoons light corn syrup
2 oz semisweet chocolate chips
1/2 tablespoon butter
  • Run powdered sugar, almond powder and cocoa through a sifter.
  • Beat egg whites until they begin to form peaks. Slowly add granulated sugar until stiff and firm.
  • Slowly fold dry ingredients into egg whites, begin carful not to over-mix them. You should end up with a brown sticky batter.
  • Spoon batter into pastry bag fitted with a plain tip and pipe it onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.
  • Let your unbaked cookies sit for 1 to 2 hours before baking at 350 degrees for 15 minutes.


In the meantime, prepare filling:

  • Heat cream in small saucepan. 
  • Add corn syrup. 
  • When cream begins to form bubbles, remove from head and add chocolate chips. 
  • Add butter as it begins to cool.
  • Put the filling in the refrigerator until the cookies are ready. If it is too runny when you fill the cookies, add a teaspoon of powdered sugar.

The finished cookies should have a small "foot" around the edge.



Fill the cookies and enjoy!

French Macarons come in all different flavor combinations and make a terrific treat or gift.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

My Morning Cup


My cousin just remodeled her kitchen. It’s amazing. She has a stove that cooks food with an induction system and can actually sense when a pan has been removed from the heat-source, in which case it will automatically turn off. And you don’t have to wait for the stove to heat-up. It’s instantaneous. So is the hot water, which comes boiling hot out of the tap if you want it to.

Making the coffee has never been easier. Dump the grinds in the bistro, place it under the spicket and voila: your morning brew. But even that method is somewhat passé with the advent of George Clooney’s Nespresso machine (all the rage here in France). Put the capsule in and out comes a perfect cappuccino.

But isn’t this missing the point almost entirely? Preparing the perfect cappuccino is a goal—you should have to work for it. It’s an achievement of sorts, small as it may be. Like completing a crossword puzzle or solving a rubik’s cube, or making the perfect pie crust. These are the small rewards of daily life that give us affirmation.

One of the things I miss from home is the green iron kettle that used to sit on my stovetop. I never moved it because I used it every morning to make coffee. First thing after stumbling out of bed, I filled it with water and lit the stove. Then I ground the beans. The sound of beans being poured into the grinder followed by the scent of freshly milled coffee was a welcome greeting. The kettle let out a low hum, telling me it was time to add the water.

Boiling water blended with fresh beans creates foam. If you pour slowly and stop periodically to stir the brew, you end up with a beautiful crema on top of your coffee. Pour this very patiently into you cup and it will end up on top of your coffee in the same way a Nespresso machine tries to manufacture it.

I’ve made, I don’t know, a couple thousand cups of coffee in my lifetime. And doing this is still something that gives me pleasure every morning. I genuinely look forward to sitting down with a good cup of coffee and that part of my day is one of my favorites.

Coffee isn’t just a drink, it’s a ritual. A habit that we come to expect each day. You can count on it whether you’re in America or France or away on holiday. It’s sort of like identifying your favorite constellation to remind yourself that you’re never really too far from home. Only you can do it when the stars have gone to sleep. That’s why a bad cup of coffee is such a let down.

I embrace new technology, especially when it comes to the kitchen. But there are some things that shouldn’t be automated—like bread, piecrust, and coffee. They are as much about preparation as they are about consumption. And you can taste the difference.

Monday, October 17, 2011

So Far From Home

Christopher is playing the piano. It's a sad song that makes me think of home—which seems so far away. I try to remember my kitchen there, but can't quite get the colors right. I try to remember the smells, the conversations, the food. Everything is muted.

We have a million memories of the wonderful, hard years there raising boys and struggling to pioneer a home and fit in to a culture that never really belonged to us (breaking in is always hard). Now I see my life dividing itself into separate decades. And that was the Georgia Years. Letting go of it hurts, but life moves on without regard to sentimentality. I find I have to work hard to not let the rich blessings of yesterday fade away. Keeping them alive is an effort.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Stalker

My damned dog is stalking me. I had these fantastically soothing dreams of me sitting in my lovely apartment in France enjoying long afternoons of espresso and literature while the kids were at school . . . So here I sit in my lovely apartment. I've got a good cup of coffee and a good book. Only problem is, my dog has been following me around all morning long with a forlorn abused pet look on her face. When I move to the kitchen, she follows me. If I wander into the study, she's there tagging behind. If I happen to glance up, there are those penetrating eyes accusing me: You know you've been ignoring me all morning. You know you need to walk me. You know I need to poop. And I ask so little of you.

I can't stand it anymore. It's downright creepy. I'm not alone in my apartment. There is someone watching me. And the worst of it is, just behind the dog's awful complaints, I hear my mother-in-laws allegations: You bad-dog-owner, you. Lazy girl, sitting around reading all day when the dog's bladder is bursting . . .
Who needs the condemnation of Sartre when you have a pet to castigate you?

Monday, September 12, 2011

Ile d'Houat

 There's a tiny island off the coast of Brittany called Ile d'Houat. Only 250 people live there.
We go in the summer time and feast on mussels, crab claws, and crepes. David brought Penny along at the 11th hour when our dog-sitting options ran out.


Tour de France



We caught the subway to the Champs Elysee. The scene was quaint, but fast.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Grass is Greener



Camping is different here. We pitched our tent in a dairy farmer's field and the boys and Penny (our lab) went nuts. Maybe it was the fresh air or the heavenly stars, or the bucolic rolling hills, or maybe just finally being together—whatever the cause, our stay there was sublime. Even when it rained.

After a night of listening to cows snore, we woke to a steady downpour and slogged to the farmer's house for a breakfast of homemade bread, butter (no kidding), cheese, jam, and yogurt. He had made everything himself, except for the coffee. The milk, needless to say, was fresh.

I left with a sack full of raspberries, local Gruyere, and blueberry yogurt. It's the simple things . . .

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

End Times

I'm resting. Finally.
Leaving Georgia was like trying to extricate myself and my boys from a jealous cephalopod—it just didn't seem to want us to go. I spent the last week packing up a 100-year-old antebellum house in the uber-heat of the South. I'd bring home 15-20 boxes, fill them and repeat. Over and over again. Each time I packed away another load more stuff would crawl out of the corners as if taunting me to dare to ever finish the task.

During the final count down, I began randomly stuffing things into boxes—1000 books, baby clothes, letters, memories, dishes, more memories. I worked through the night and right up until our renter moved in, leaving a massive pile of human debris by the roadside for a secondhand scout.

With the boys at my parents' house and a million things to wrap up before our departure, I made yet another midnight trip to the storage unit. As I struggled to haul one last box, I turned just in time to see my Honda Element rolling backward down a hill. Instinctively, I ran after it—flip-flops flying off my feet—and grabbed on to the drivers' side window. The damn car was locked.

I rode it all the way down the hill and into a security fence, knocking out the key-pad unit. Sore and bruised, I managed a cheerful waive at the security camera before calling it a day. I was too amped up to sleep, though, and knew I had a hellacious day of travel in store so I headed to the only late night massage place I know: Jeju Sauna. I was desperate and had heard rave reviews.

The place is an authentic Korean spa. Totally different from French spas that relax you with aroma therapy or American Spas that play soothing New Age music. This place is a holistic hospital for the sick. Perfect. I stretched out naked on a white vinyl table while a matronly Korean masseuse put on gloves and scrubbed me ferociously. After about 20 minutes, I thought there was no skin left on my body, so she downgraded to a milder lufa sponge and did it again. (Note to self: butt cheeks are sensitive. Go easy on the sandpaper.) When these women give you a massage, they literally stand on your back and dig into your muscles. Then they throw buckets of soapy hot water on you. You're basically a tuna on a sushi slab. I couldn't have cared less about frills and ambiance, though, all I wanted was to feel better and it worked.

Liberating ourselves from the massive rut that we had dug/fallen into was/is way harder than I imagined it would be. Life doesn't seem to want you to just pack up and change course. But I think the hardest part may be over. France was here waiting, cordial and lovely.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Adieu

Its time to leave our little house in Social Circle, Georgia and move to France.
Everybody says, Wow, youre going on a great adventure! They tell us stoically that they are going to miss us. And I smile and say something like, Ill miss you too. But well be back soon.

Truth is, I dont know when well be back. Something tells me it will be a long while. And when we do return, everything will be so different.

How in the world do you say goodbye? How do you bid your tree house farewell? The one Tim built in the hot sun when we barely had enough money for the wood? The one David painted. The one all of our kids friends slept in? Never mind the house. The floors my husband sanded through the night when I was pregnant with our first baby. The hollowed out shell that we turned into a beautiful home. The kitchen where I learned to make pizza and my babies learned to walk.

How do you say goodbye to the teacher who taught your son to play the violin? (She sent me pictures of his first grade recital. Hes 11 now.) How do you tell your mother goodbye? The woman who showed up on your doorstep three days a week for a decade to care for your kids? How do you walk away from friends—really good ones, who drink with you and pray for you? And how do you tell your children how to say goodbye to the friends theyve loved since they were learning to talk?

I don't know.

I just know that these tears streaming down my face are the good kind. The bitter-sweet sorrow of letting go of what we love so much.

I cant tell you all how much I love you. Ill miss you when were gone. But we will be back, eventually. And well carry you in our hearts wherever we go!


Monday, April 11, 2011

HERE'S WHY I LOVE MY MOM

Every Tuesday and Thursday, my mother gets up early, puts on her pearls and lipstick and heads off to a job she takes very seriously. An old-school stickler for timeliness, she leaves the house three hours ahead of schedule in case of an unexpected delay—which never happens. Since she arrives at work early, she stops for lunch and a bit of shopping before pulling into the school parking lot to greet two tired, cranky, and usually dirty clients ages eight and eleven. This is her eleventh year on the job, and nobody—absolutely nobody—can take her place.

For my sons, there’s no nanny, coach, babysitter, or schoolteacher who can hold a candle to Grandma. Even professionally trained camp counselors hired to laugh on cue and motivate youngsters are dull compared to a big-haired old lady who can regale children with stories of playground bullies and growing up in a boxcar. That she is so involved in my boys’ lives is a testament to her humility and earnest response to the call of servanthood.

When I think back, several versions of my mother appear in my mind. There’s the mom for whom I waited as I lay awake in bed, anticipating the nightly ritual of playing “this little piggy” on my tummy; the worried lady waving to me from the airport terminal as I left to spend a summer in New York by myself when I was sixteen; the mom I condescended to when I was in seminary and thought of myself as an intellectual. And there’s the woman who travelled many miles from her home with a suitcase full of flowers to see me get married.

Like so many mothers, she came last on the list of her own priorities. Trapped in an abusive marriage, she struggled to protect her children, something she had no previous experience with. Eventually, she made the soul-crushing decision to leave full-time mothering and find work in order to provide our basic necessities without having to fight for them. But this meant a premature detachment from her children, who became latchkey kids. I see now the struggle I couldn’t possibly have understood then. When I was a 14-year-old locked out of my house and wanting be locked out forever, I wondered what on earth kept her in such an awful place. I begged her to leave so we could start over, but she always said she had to get her kids through college first. And this, to me, was ridiculous. Until I became a mom.

Too many mothers today don’t feel truly understood. Maybe that’s the case—particularly if their kids are as self-absorbed as I was. But this much is true: God knows every mother. And children grow up and learn to see reality through a more accurate lens. As each year passes, my mom becomes more complex and more lovely in my eyes. I am learning to see her true face—the one God sees.

Now, when I slow down long enough to look back over my life, I recognize the endowment she gave me. I see myself bending over the bathtub to bathe my little boys as I try to conceal the tears of exhaustion streaming down my face, and it’s her all over again. There’s me driving across state lines with two babies in the back seat while tanking up on coffee to stay awake. It’s her again. And the woman who spends her paycheck on Legos and toy soldiers? Yes, it’s me—but her too.

Every time I left home, my mom told me in her most sincere voice, “I’ll be praying for you,” as if that message was a $20 bill I could keep in reserve for an emergency. But those prayers actually worked—for both of us. Her petitions have flown ahead of me wherever I go, like birds that know instinctively when and where to move. And that makes the servant heart in her happy.

She’s small and delicate, but has traversed life’s most difficult terrain successfully. And she’s done it with simple faith. If you’d told me 20 years ago that my mom would finish this strong, I probably wouldn’t have believed you. But here we are. She greets each day like the pro that she is: prompt, prepared, prayed-up, and looking good. Which is why she’s irreplaceable—like all mothers are, whether they know it or not. Do you?







Tuesday, October 19, 2010

If I die

. . . at least I will have been to Petra. This time, a friend and I took donkeys through Petra to the high place of sacrifice. I never would have been able to see the whole thing on foot. Here are a few snapshots taken by the rider on the other horse. They don't do it justice, buy you get the idea.

This Bedouin man was born in Petra and has lived here all his life. He learned to speak English from the tourists.  

Donkeys are incredibly sure footed and can carry heavy loads up the steep hills to very precarious places.


My donkey leading us higher along a narrow ledge.


The view from the ledge.


There's no doubt in my mind: I'm glad I went. Can't wait to go back.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Traveling Mercies

I’m leaving for a trip to Jordan in the morning. My 10-year-old son keeps pleading with me not to go. He began reading online news and tracking with world events at an early age when the Americans found Saddam Hussein in Iraq. We’ve spent a fair amount of time in France so he’s particularly tuned into the current travel advisories for Americans there.

When another chance to see Jordan came my way, I didn’t even hesitate for a second. Petra and Wadi Rum are hands down two of the most incredible places I’ve ever been in my life. Going to these places is like taking a time machine back a thousand years. At Petra, I climbed for a day to a monastery carved out of the ragged earth. Two of my friends hoisted me up into the doorway and I said a prayer there for my husband—a really important prayer.

So I’m going back tomorrow, and I’m going to climb that hill again and pray a new prayer this time. I’m going to drive through the desert and watch the shadows move across the dunes, I’m going to snorkel in the Red Sea (where I saw Lion Fish last time), and I’m going to walk through the Roman ruins of Jerash and look across the valley from where Moses stood surveying the Promised Land.

So many people have told me not to go. This isn’t an absolute necessity, they say. Why would you risk it if you don’t have to? A friend argued yesterday, “You can’t say you’ll be safer in Jordan than in Macon (small Georgia town). You just can’t!”

It’s true. Al Qaeda is active in Jordan and there have been attacks there. I stayed in a hotel that had been bombed the last time I went and will stay in yet another that was hit by a rocket this time. So why go?

Well, why jump out of a perfectly good airplane and plummet toward the earth until your shoot opens? Why float across a summer sky in a hang glider like a falcon surveying the canyon beneath him? Why climb a mountain so high you need an oxygen tank or trek across a precarious glacier? Why sail uncharted territory?

Because life is wonderful. It really is. I believe this as much as anything I understand in this life. And I want to live it.

So I tell my son I’ll be okay and I’ll come back to him with pictures and trinkets. I take him to a dollar store and ask him to help me pick out treats for the Bedouin children I’ll see. And I promise to take him to Petra someday.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

MOVING IN CIRCLES


I haven’t blogged in forever. No, I’m not dead. Just living the good life.
Can life be so brilliantly beautiful that we don’t have time to write about it? Probably not. I’m just lazy.

At any rate, we spent our summer in France. A good deal of it at the Olgy Sailing Club. Last year, I stepped out on a limb and enrolled the boys in a French sailing camp. The instructor, Christelle, (who speaks very rudimentary English) told me they would be just fine. I understood her to say that they would be in a boat with an experienced sailor. So you can understand my misgivings when she put my 7 and 9-year-old sons in a boat with a shrimpy little boy who spoke no English and sent them down the Moselle River just as a giant barge made its way toward them.

“Aren’t the kids going to have an adult on board?” I protested. “Non ma’am,” Christelle said. “They don’t learn so good with adults.” The day passed with no trauma, so we returned the next morning. This time, she put David & Christopher in a boat by themselves. My stomach churned nervously. When they reached the middle of the river, their sailboat began to turn in circles uncontrollably. Sure they would soon keel over, I ran down the pier and motioned to the instructor, pointing madly at my boys—at this point any French I know failed me.

Christelle stepped calmly into a speedboat and set off in their direction yelling commands in French. When my boys returned to the pier, I learned they had been arguing and couldn’t agree on which direction to go. “Good job, Circle Boy,” the older chided his scowling brother. Concluding from their odd behavior that they were afraid of the water, Christelle ordered the boys back into the speedboat. This time, her assistant plucked each boy up by his life vest and tossed him into the river. This was a home-run. My sons stopped arguing immediately and begged to go sailing everyday.

On day three, I figured my nerves would calm a bit. But this time, Christelle split the “arguing” boys up and sent them down the river solo. No adult, no friend, not even an angry sibling on board. Watching from the pier where I could do absolutely nothing to help them was hard, but worth it. That day, I saw my boys sail for the first time. They made their way around every buoy and back to the dock without incident.

I’m routinely humbled by my kids, but when we’re abroad it’s routine. How many years have I spent going around in circles because I’m engaged in an argument about which direction to take my life? And I’m arguing with myself! If only I could laugh at being tossed overboard and learn by intuition like they do. Maybe then I would learn to sail . . .

 My boys are in the boat to the far right.


Sunday, July 11, 2010

Random Pics of the weekend

Houses in Wells, England. This is said to be the oldest street in Europe.

Stonehenge.

Christopher riding through a very old forrest.

Learning to Crawl Again

We stayed with cousins in Norwich during our first weekend here and they took us on a pub crawl. You ride bicycles through the barley fields visiting one pub after another. Of course, you have to drink the local brew at each stop along the way. I swear the fields got prettier and prettier as the night went on!

Friday, July 9, 2010

STONEHENGE


The boys and I started our European vacation this week, beginning with the Stonehenge. Rain drove most of the visitors away, so we were able to enjoy the site with minimal disruptions. The stones, although they're near a motorway, are really quite remarkable.

"Stand over here," a guide told us, "the spiritual aura is strongest." I stood for a few minutes in the "most concentrated" point of spiritual contact and felt like a soccer mom from the US looking at old rocks. Still, it's amazing and beautiful. The countryside is pristine and everything smells of grass and earth.

At the close of the day, we took a picnic of Cornwall pasties up to one of the ancient burial mounds (they form an outer circle around the stonehenge). Yes, they let people walk on them. We sat atop the mound laughing and singing and totally enjoying our first day in England. I love this place!

Sunday, June 20, 2010

TOY STORY

* Spoiler Alert (sort of)*

I took the boys to see Toy Story 3 yesterday. You don't expect the sequels to be as good as the originals, but Pixar hit it out of the ballpark on this one. I really enjoyed the film and laughed all the way through until an unexpected scene brought me up short. At the end of the movie, Andy's mom walks into his bedroom and all of his toys are gone. Without warning my tear ducts exploded and I began bawling like a baby.

I could feel like a sap for something like this, but what's the point? Toys are amazing. They're artifacts of our children's lives. They're a physical manifestation of brilliant unspoiled imaginations. They're a testament to the wonder that is in us before we learn to hide it away.




One of the things I love about being a mom is that I get to play with toys. Which makes me wonder why grown ups stop doing this in the first place.

I can't help but think that if I could just crawl out of my suit of armor and be the way I am with my kids in the "real" world, how different things would be.

Instead of wearing make up to work, I'd wear the shorts I slept in and an old Halloween costume. When someone offended me, I wouldn't take the higher ground and then talk about them behind their back. I'd say something like, "YOU move over, booger face!" And then that person would insult me, "No YOU move over diarrhea breath." And then I'd laugh and we'd be friends. Instead of worrying about my weight I would eat the foods I really like.


My son, Christopher, must have heard me crying. He wrapped his arm around me and said, "Mom, the good thing about toys is . . ." then he started crying too.

When we pulled ourselves together, he said, "Mom, the good thing about toys is they live forever."

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Paranoia

When my husband booked us for a kayaking trip in Beaufort, S.C., I was excited. The day before our excursion, we were riding around on a golf cart and spotted a huge alligator sunning himself under a sign that read "Alligators May Live Here". We all laughed and took a couple of pictures. Later that day, Tim's mom informed us that a man had lost his arm to a gater a few weeks earlier—poor old guy stuck his arm in the marsh to retrieve a golf ball.

So before we set out on our journey—which took us meandering deep into the marsh—I asked our guide if we needed to know anything about safety or alligators. There was a pregnant pause. I told her I'd just learned about the guy who lost his arm. Another long awkward pause. Then sweetly laced words of assurance, "we've never had an incident and if you don't bother the alligators, they won't bother you." She finished by telling us that the gators on Fripp Island (where we were staying) are totally different from the ones on St. Helena—just a hop, skip, and a jump away. Another woman in the group reassured me that the man who lost his arm was "really old and dumb."

Being from the city and all, I don't know alligator habits, but a few questions came to mind: Why are gators on one island (10 minutes away from the one I'm on) so different from gators on another? Do old and dumb people attract more gators than young  smart people? I I was rapidly becoming the pesky paranoid tourist no one wants on the trip, so I kept these thoughts to myself.

The kayaking was sublime. Ironically, however, we were visited by not one, but five, alligators while eating our picnic lunch later that afternoon. We stuck around long enough to take a picture (see my son, David, above) then high tailed it out of there. I still trying to decide if the risk was worth the journey . . .

Thursday, June 3, 2010

What, Me Worry?

"Fret not, it leads only to evil!" an old preacher used to say to me. This is wisdom I'm hypocritically sharing with others today . . .

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Talent

My son wrote a comedy act for the 2nd grade talent show and got rejected.
His original presentation involved a book club that meets its unfortunate demise when a canibal shows up. (I tried not to take this personally since I'm the only member of the family in a book club.) When I told him it was too sophisticated for his audience, he shrugged and went back to work.

The new piece was more fitting, I thought—he beguiled his big brother and me with jokes about The Jonas Brothers and phlegm. But somehow the teacher didn't see the humor in it. Not to be deterred, he's now busy in his bedroom writing another skit. This one's about Walt Disney rising from his tomb (as he calls it), chainsaw in hand, and slaying all the people who turned Christopher Robin into a girl.

What does a mother do? Tell her kid to sanitize his stuff and give the grown ups what they want to hear? Clearly, this one won't go over at all. And I can't set him up for disappointment. I promised him he could perform the edgier stuff in a night club after the talent show is over, and I hope he doesn't hold me to that. But, in his strange little way, my kid has taught me not to take rejection too seriously. And to keep writing stuff my way.

I've spent the past decade squeezing myself into a mold I can't stand because I want to get published—and paid. Today I sat behind my desk and rejected an absolutely beautiful poem because I read that its author had been fired from a job after he wrote it. I knew a handful of vocal readers would make my life miserable and I might be the next one with the pink slip. So, in an act of self-preservation, I shoved the miraculous little collection of words away. We all do what we must.

But maybe I don't have to pass this omen on down the line. We'll have our own talent show. And this rebellious mom is going to make popcorn and put up the strobe light for open mic night in our kitchen, where we can really be real.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Girls

I almost bailed out on a rafting trip with five friends—when my husband is in Europe, and I have no one to take care of my kids, it's easier not to go anywhere.
I'm glad now that I let Tammy (second from left) pressure me into it. When you're stowed away in a cabin with a group of girls, it takes about 10 minutes to loosen up and have a great time. About 8:00 the first night, I got really hungry and went to the fridge—full of libations, chocolate and dip. Not a veg in the house.

The next morning, everyone was toast and we started whining (in the hot tub) about  skipping the rafting trip. Once again, Tammy rallied the troops. We had a terrific time—my only regret is I don't have a picture of Turbo, our super-hawt rafting guide.

Here's to Tammy, Queen of the World!
(Found the tiara in a second-hand shop in this Appalachian mountain town.)

Note to self: When your girlfriends invite you out, go!

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Losing Control

My husband left for France Sunday. We went to see Robin Hood for our family's last night together and the evening was spoiled by my yelling at the theater manager.

First, he confiscated my ice cream (okay, I knew I shouldn't have brought it into the theater in the first place. My bad). Then, he followed me through the corridor asking for the name of the person who let me in the door with it. When I didn't give it to him, I was ushered out to dispose of all contraband snacks. I re-entered the facility with an empty plastic cup containing a few ice cubes. I walked past the ticket guy again and again was stopped by the manager and asked to dispose of the empty cup. By this point, the film had started, so I hurled the cup toward a nearby trash can hoping to make a basket.

Wouldn't you know it—the darn thing bounced off the rim and splattered ice cubes all over the floor. For the third time, the manager came over to me and announced in a most condescending tone, "Maam, that was really inappropriate."

If I hadn't been upset all day about losing my husband and facing the next months alone, and dealing with our way too hectic schedule, and keeping everyone happy, and crating peace at my office, I probably would have agreed with him.

But I blew a gasket. My embarrassed husband cleaned up the mess while the manager and his buddy laughed at us.

Some people believe in karma. While I wouldn't go that far, I can look back at the situation and see that most of it came about because of my own bad vibes (or whatever you want to call them). If I had been calm and peaceful, that guys obnoxious behavior would have amounted to nothing. But by losing my temper, I gave him control over the situation. And things spiraled way out of control.

Note to self: When you're dealing with a pesky person, don't concede. Remember that you are in control of your emotions. If they make you really angry, they win.

Easier said than done, I know. But worth the reminder anyway.

Tonight I'm going to watch a chick-flick on my laptop and eat a pint of ice cream!

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Facing Home

I just returned from a job in Chicago feeling physically tired but spiritually inspired. I interviewed Kristen Jane Andersen. Her book, Life in Spite of Me, came out yesterday. She's an incredible girl who tried to commit suicide by lying across a set of train tracks. Thirty train cars ran over her body and left her without legs. She survived and is one of the most remarkable people I've ever met. I visited her in her home just a block away from the tracks where her life nearly ended. We went out to the railroad crossing and stood just a few feet from where the accident occurred. I was struck by the fact that she hears the train go by several times a day and isn't haunted by it. Instead of running away from the pain in her life, she has embraced it. At the close of our conversation, she said, "I don't miss having legs because I don't really need them." In the context of where this young lady has been and where she is today, that statement is loaded with wisdom.

I returned to a messy house, a stack of bills, and all the stress of my busy life—including the old ghosts that keep me awake and bug me during the night and the condemning voices that tell me I'm not good enough. For years, I've shoved all of that stuff as far into the dark corners of my mind as I can. Today I'm wondering what would happen if I turned around and faced them. And, like Kristen, actually trusted God to let them shape me.

An aside: I'm doing a short TV segment on Kristen and will also publish a print story about her. I'll let you know when those come out. In the mean time, go by a store and pick up her book!

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Book Winner

Congratulations to Aimee Nelsby, who won a copy of Mary Karr's book Lit!

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

The Here and Now

Okay, I admit it. I'm one of those girls who watches Jane Austin movies for hours and hours (BBC's Pride and Prejudice, etc) and walks around in a fog all day wishing I could wear a hoop skirt and fall in love with Mr. D'Arcy. Which is all fine and good.

But, my question is this: when does daydreaming go too far? This is a question I really grappled with several years ago when I had just graduated from college and was more prone to living a significant part of my life in that daydream world. At that point, I actually became convicted that escaping mentally to another reality was tantamount to rejecting a precious gift from God. No, heavenly Father, this life you've given me isn't quite what I wanted. Now that I'm a busy mother, I no longer have the luxury of extensive musings, but I do avoid reality in a different, more subtle way—I live for tomorrow. (And, of course, tomorrow never comes.) When I get the bills paid, when I get published, when I move into a bigger house, when I win the lottery . . .

I don't go to the past, but I know those who do. When I was in college, when I was in charge, when I was younger, thinner, prettier . . . As I see it, the two ditches on either side of reality are fantasy and nostalgia. And, as Rudyard Kippling said, the middle line is hard to hold. So, this is my vow today: I'll appreciate what's right in front of me. I'll thank God for my life, as it is. And I'll bring a little bit of that genteel Victorian essence into the present.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Give Away!

I'm giving away a hardback copy of the most recent book I read: Lit, by Mary Karr.

Warning: Her work is not for the faint-hearted, but Mary Karr is a literary tour de force. Her command of the American vernacular is phenomenal and she can tell a story like the poets of old.

Mary Karr opens her memoir by saying “Any way I tell this story is a lie.” This is the third memoir Karr has written about a turbulent life that began in a back- water Texas town. The daughter of two alcoholics, she succumbs to the inevitable fate her parents suffered. This book is a bold and candid portrait of the life of a poet and addict. Through it, we also get to see the interior life of a woman desperately searching for meaning in a world filled with condemnation and abuse.

If you can stomach the strong language and hang in there through tales of genuine despair, the conclusion is worth it all. This is a remarkable story of amazing grace in real life. Karr’s redemption is anything but predictable and is so authentically told, readers will find real spiritual encouragement in it. I’ve read Karr’s earlier works and was completely shocked by how things in her life have turned out—for the better.


To win, all you have to do is "Follow" along or post my "soul trippers" blog button on your blog. It's that easy.

I'll be announcing the winner on next Thursday. Happy reading!

Monday, April 19, 2010

Imbecile Americain

Every Saturday my boys and I go to French school. We spend the summers in France and learning the language has become a necessity. Last summer was completely frustrating for me. I had made the transition from tourist to transplant, thereby losing my right to totally depend on others for navigation and interaction with the locals. For example, I had to enroll my boys in summer camp and take them to the doctor for physicals. I had to keep up with the grocery shopping and the social calendar and cart the boys everywhere they needed to be.

There's nothing like not speaking French while living in France to reduce a person's ego to the size of an amoeba. I remember standing in a bakery pleading with a woman for a fork (to go with my salad). My nerves had overtaken me so much that I'd forgotten the vocabulary and left prepared to eat with my fingers. Saturday was like that.

We began discussing the recent volcano in Poland and one sentence into the dialog I was lost. You have to understand that my professor won't speak a word of English—not one, under any circumstances. If I burst into flames and beg for water, he'll make me ask in French. You also need to know that there is a haughty woman who sits next to me and informed me (on my very first day of class) that she grew up in a Swiss boarding school and lived in France for five years. She dominates the conversation, looks down her ski-jump nose, and prescribes sentences I need to use when I go to France: phrases that translate to things like "I'm an American Idiot. Forgive me for living and please sell me a latte."

At any rate, I adore France and despite my intense insecurities, the locals are really nice to me—and patient too. The lady in the bakery worked with me for a long time before another French customer got involved and, through sign language, figured out I wanted a fork. But in spite of their generosity, I still left the place mad. Why? Because I felt like a fool. Nobody made me feel that way, I did it to myself.

It's really hard to admit that I studied French for three years in college and still can't speak it because I wasted time and was a lousy student—that I'm defensive because of my own short-comings. I wonder if fewer people would not get on my nerves if I believed in myself more?

Monday, April 12, 2010

10 THINGS

I'm having an awful day. Days like this drive me to autopilot. And autopilot makes me wonder if I'm really alive or just going through the motions. Which leads down the rabbit hole of faith. What is it anyway? Do we go to church on Sunday merely to psych ourselves into believing in something bigger than the strain of everyday life? Is it something like a glee club for the weak minded—a prop to keep us motivated? As Marx would say, the opiate of the masses.

Really, I'm not that cynical. And I've learned during the last 40 years to look at concrete evidence when I'm shaken like this. So here's my evidence for today—
10 THINGS that tell me I'm alive and God is good:

1) The warm sun on my face
2) Brahms
3) Chanel dresses
4) Orchids
5) Sumatra coffee
6) Van Gogh paintings
7) Cherry trees
8) Tim's blue eyes
9) Ecclesiastes
10) Good friends

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Acrophobia!


I went down this water slide.

What on earth possesses parents to do crazy things like this? I’m terribly afraid of heights. When I was just out of college, a group of friends convinced me to climb the rigging on a yacht we had taken out to Gloucester Harbor. Three-quarters of the way up, I froze. My hands curled around the ropes and sweat ran down my face. I couldn’t move. I looked down at the ship far beneath me and saw myself falling through the air and crumpling on the planks below. Some time passed before I gained enough courage to back down slowly.

But yesterday my 10-year-old cajoled me into sliding off of a 120-foot thrill ride. Despite my light-headedness and an inner voice that tried to remind me that heights scare the dickens out of me, I agreed. As we stood for 30 interminable minutes waiting to leap to our deaths, I tried to look brave and nonchalant.

A massive Marine standing in line next to me confided, “I’m a wimp!” He tried not to scream as he went over the edge, but a squeal came out anyway. Everyone laughed—the group of gloating Russians, the German body-builders, and me. Not because we pitied him, but because we were all nervous.

I fell for 12 stories before coasting to a stop at the bottom. I did it exactly the way my son told me to: “Count to ten, Mom, and it will all be over.” When I got to eight, I sat up and looked into his smiling face and thought, I really would do anything for this kid!  Isn't that the way love is? Crazy.