Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Scattering Seed

Recently, my second grader came home from school and walked into a Hitchock experience. Coming through our backyard gate, she was swarmed by at least two dozen sparrows, who are not exactly timid, but easily startled. By the time my daughter made it through the kitchen door, her own feathers slightly ruffled, the flock had resettled itself in our flowerbed, our sidewalk, and atop our gas grill.

Sweet daughter, you may blame your mother's love of little children for this alarming episode.

I have a great fondness for kids under the age of five, and when my nieces and nephews come over, I go to all lengths to make sure the feeling is mutual. One of my traditions with some of my favorite kids (We'll call them G & R, but don't confuse them with the metal band), is to let them feed the birds.

In my overcrowded storage closet, I have an oversized tub of wild bird food. When G & R come over, they, along with my four-year-old Livie, are given plastic cups and allowed to go bonkers with bird seed. They then spend a merry 20 minutes filling numerous bird feeders, potted plants, sand toys, and pores of my 30-year-old concrete, with seeds. Its an unholy mess, really.

But they love it. Especially if they stay long to see the birds arrive. Last time, G was out alone on the patio when six or seven feathered friends descended, and he waved his chubby paws in the air and stage whispered, "Guys! Guys! The birds are here!" (except he pronounced it "Dies! Dies! Da birds are heya!") I swear, tears came to my eyes.

The side benefit for the kiddos is that the imprecise seed distribution means some of the seeds actually grow. (It also means we occasionally get mice nosing around, but it's still worth it). And since their other favorite thing in my yard is to decimate my garden and make "salad" in a big bucket, all these birdseed weeds mean more greens to pick next time.

The side benefit to me (though perhaps not to my daughter), is that I get crazy amounts of birds in my yard for days after the kids go home. I don't know how the birdies know G & R have been here, but the word gets out that there is a sparrow smorgasbord going on at our house, and the regulars show up with their extended family.

I don't have pets, but I feel very attached to these birds. I'll be e-mailing away or elbow deep in dishes, and suddenly -- surprise! -- my birdie buddies have arrived. One of the most soothing sounds I know is the flutter of their feathers and the "clink clink" their little beaks make against the glass votives in the yard (which used to be for candles, but of course are now filled with seeds). They keep me company as I type. I watch their skirmishes in the morning as I drink my coffee. And though I would never run through my yard tossing seed all over the place, I'm so glad these precious little people in my life do.

This is, in fact, the best thing about having children. That I'm okay with their creative abandon, their messy enthusiasm, even if I've lost touch with my own. It's tough being a winsome adult, you know? One day my husband came home and found me on the porch scattering seeds on the sidewalk, trying to draw back a beautiful little family of bluebirds. Hubby said this behavior made me one click away from Crazy Old Lady, like the bird seed bag lady in Mary Poppins.

Early childhood, late-in-life senility. These seem the times appropriate for unabashed and simple joys. So being a mother in one's mid-thirties is awesome, because I live through their experiences, too. I let them make messes, drip paint, scatter seed. You never know what small, fluttery surprises may result from them.

Monday, January 23, 2012

The Most Depressing Day of the Year

Sixty-two years ago today, January 23, 1950, my father was born. He's a marvelous dad: present, funny, wise, God-fearing, patient, enthusiastic about everything, and the champion of his three children. If any of us needs to hire an agent, Daddy would take the job, but fail at it, because no one would ever believe we are as fabulous as he thinks we are. Papa Wayne's (pictured above with one of his granddaughters) enthusiasm for his kids is surpassed only by his profound belief that his four grandchildren are the most beautiful and remarkable babies ever birthed. We are a well-backed, well-loved group of young people.

All this positivity is in direct odds with the fact that Dad was born on the Most Depressing Day of the Year. At least according to "experts."

In 2005, on my dad's birthday, I was heading to his house with a box of donuts and a Los Angeles Times, and saw the front page story.Researchers/sociologists somewhere (can't find the article, but they must have been big-wigs because it
was on the front page), declared January 23 as the most depressing day of the year using a number of factors including weather, distance from any major spirit-lifting holiday, and the fact that most people had already abandoned their New Year's resolutions. "Most people" were receiving and unable to pay their Christmas credit card bills was also a factor. They might not have -- but should have -- noted that "most people" are five pounds heavier in January than they are at any other time.

But I, being extremely counter-cultural, really love the month of January. I'm a sucker for the new beginning, and I do make New Year's Resolutions of a sort. Some, which I select prayerfully, go pretty well, because when God calls me to change something, He's pretty faithful to give me the power to do it. Others, like my list in my previous blog "Changing Coffee Makers, Changing My Life," I only half expect to follow, and therefor don't get too discouraged about.

I love that, with Christmas over, expectations are lower. My calendar is less full and each day looks like fresh pad of paper to write on. Now that I'm not expected to feel "merry," I find it easier to do so.

I also love that, with the Christmas decorations down, my house seems twice as big. Bare shelves to arrange creatively, and no dead tree in the living room? What fun!

In January, I still remember what I got for Christmas, and as my gifts are usually clothes, books, and craft supplies, I go about in January well dressed, well read, and filled with creative inspiration.

All the new stuff , new space, and new routines inspires me to meditate on what is worthwhile in my life.

Which, by the way, is something my good father taught me. One of the many Bible verses my dad has memorized, and helped me memorize too: "Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.
" Philippians 4: 7-9

So happy birthday, Daddy. This day is a bright spot in my year because of you.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Put Your Hands Where I Can See Them

On Tuesday, I violated California's Distraction Free Driving vehicle code. And I got caught.

Alone in the car, talking to my women's pastor, then to my friend and fellow MOPS leader, I had my phone on speaker, but in my hand.

Apparently, the state takes that whole "hands-free" thing literally.

I tried to explain to the officer that I wasn't trying to break the law, I am really just that stupid, and misunderstood the law (thinking, I don't know, that it was an ear-free law?).

"Have you read the law?" he asked.

"Well, no."

"Then you didn't misunderstand. You just didn't bother to find out. And that bright blue phone you have? It's pretty easy for me to see."

Drat my obsession with the color turquoise!

The officer then explained that by law he could pull me over for driving unsafely if he sees me eating a hamburger or reading while driving. Anything that shows I am distracted.

"Can you pull me over if I have my kids in the car, because they are really distracting?"

Th officer did not laugh.

Accepting that I was not getting out of this ticket, I humbly sat in my car, thinking about Wonder Woman and a bus accident.

Over Christmas, my friend Lorene told me the story of how she was hit by a bus in Oakland on Halloween, while wearing her Wonder Woman costume. One minute she was driving, the next minute, her Element was embedded in the side of a city bus. And she wasn't on her cell phone.

The rest of Lorene's story is worth telling, though I'm fuzzy on the details. As she sat, dazed, in her totaled car, she looked and saw a fairy peering in her window. Actually, a woman dressed like a fairy, who kindly took Lorene to her van/home parked nearby, which was draped in sarongs and strung with twinkle lights. In this serene oasis, Lorene received the attentions of the Oakland EMTs, who were quite impressed with the fairy's van.

But I digress. I thought of Lorene when I got my ticket, because her experience informed her driving practices from that point on. If she can get hit by a bus when paying attention, what could happen when she's not really paying attention, which as a mother is at least half the time. We had a soulful conversation about the need to live in the present moment, particularly when we are behind the wheel of a 4,000-pound vehicle. I actually deeply believe this; we treat driving as down time, and like all down time, we fill it up. But driving isn't down time. It's the most dangerous thing we do every day.

I'm thinking I would rather not be hit by a bus in order to have this particular truth brought home to me, so I'm hoping the as-of-yet -undisclosed fine will do the trick. It's a lesson I clearly need to learn. Because on the way from the site of my infraction to my daughter's preschool just after the incident (a two-mile journey), I almost picked up my phone to call and tell someone what happened at least four times.

Then my friend who'd been on the phone when I was pulled over sent me a text: "Welcome to the ticket club. From a humble member." Then I thought, "Now I'm reading a text! Distracted again! Hands below steering wheel! Cops can tell what I'm doing! Quick, get my hands up where they can see them!"

So that is my new mantra in the car. Hands up where people can see them! If I use my phone so unconsciously that I do it 30 seconds after getting a ticket, I have a serious distraction problem. Probably even a dangerous one. So you too, fellow mommies. Put your hands where we can see them.

Now, what to do about those distracting children in the back seat?

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

I Want to Go Viral

This morning I woke up happy. But now, I am bummed.

I love writing my blog -- it satisfies a deep need in me to get my thoughts out and into the world. I also really love when someone reads it. And this a.m. I saw one comment and two e-mails commenting on my post from yesterday.

Then I got another e-mail from a reader who suggested a blog she likes that reminds her of my writing style. It was the second time in 12 hours that someone had sent me the same link.

Now, here's a writers' peculiarity. Though we love to read, we sometimes hate to read something we wish we had written. So I don't often read other mommy blogs, because I don't want to be inordinately influenced by their ideas or find that they've "stolen" one of mine. Silly, I know.

But I read this particular entry (it seemed like a sign) and magnanimously share it with you: momastery.com/blog/2012/01/04/2011-lesson-2-dont-carpe-diem. It was a great entry; and also something on a subject I have/would have written on. What made me sad? Momastery had, like, 52 comments and 1700 facebook likes. Suddenly the three people who liked my entry seemed kind of, well, insignificant.

I'm ashamed to admit it, but I fantasize about being big, going viral, selling lots of books. Like, Rick Warren big. If I had a nickel for every time someone told me I could be the next Beth Moore? I'd have like 15 cents! It's not all just pride and glory-hounding though. When I feel God has shown me something exciting or I've learned a beautiful lesson, I want to share it with as many people as possible.

I wonder if Jesus struggled with this, because I know his followers did. They wanted him to go big and show every single person in the known world who he was and what he could do. But there were many times that he healed someone and then told them to keep in a secret, because that particular healing was just for the benefit of that single person, not for the great glory of God the Father or Jesus himself. The "big" glory moment would come later; the biggest is still coming.

Jesus could only be in one place at one time; he had a limited influence, reaching one of the smallest nations in the world within the largest empire. This says to me not that God is exclusive in his revelations (indeed, that small nation went on to change the whole world) but that He is personal. He cares about one tiny country, one little people group, one lonely woman, one lost man.

I am not comparing myself to Jesus. But if he was limited in his earthly life, then I should be content that I am too. And from my heart, I say that if one person reads something I wrote and feels a little less crazy, a bit happier, slightly encouraged or (best of all) a little closer to the Creator of the Universe, than it was totally worth having written it. Because that person matters to God.

That means you, dear reader. You matter. Now go e-mail this to 40 of your friends. (Just kidding.)

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Revelation Junkie

One of my Christmas dreams was fulfilled this year in the form of the Paper Source Art Grid calendar, a gift from my mom. I have wanted one for years, but as they cost $25 and don't go on sale after Christmas (or ever!) I have never bought one. Hurray for mothers everywhere who spoil us with precious little luxuries. It was a particularly wonderful present because the calendar I bought myself this summer is lost somewhere in my laundry room, never to be seen again.

As I was filling in appointments for the month of January on my pristine and beautiful grid, I noticed in red bold letters on January 6 the single word: EPIPHANY.

Well, that's groovy, I thought. Paper Source had determined that I shall have an epiphany on the first Friday in January. Knowing this wasn't really the case, I looked up Epiphany, which is actually a Christian holiday observed by various denominations throughout the world, celebrating the manifestation of Christ to the Gentiles. Western Christians celebrate it as the day that the Magi arrived in Bethlehem to meet Jesus, God incarnate; Eastern Christians observe it as the day of Jesus' baptism, revealing him as the Son of God.

Apparently, the word, with origins in Greek, literally means "manifestation" or "striking appearance." Not being a Greek scholar or an Orthodox Christian, I have always used the word epiphany in the common, American sense, as in a sudden understanding of the "bigger picture." I spoke with my friend Wendy on January 6 and told her my initial thought at seeing the word on my calendar. After a chuckle, we both agreed to have an epiphany that day.

Here's what mine was: you can't plan to have an epiphany. Like a revelation of God, a sudden flash of insight comes not at will, like summoning a genie, but when you are least expecting it. However, you can cultivate a spirit that is open to revelation, a mind that seeks understanding, and a soul that wants to find beauty and meaning in the world around you. An epiphany lifestyle if you will.

Being a word geek, I'm going to hit you with one more definition. Here's one of dictionary.com's meanings for epiphany:

a sudden, intuitive perception of or insight into the reality or essential meaning of something, usually initiated by some simple, homely, or commonplace occurrence or experience.

Hot dog! Did that definition strike a chord with me! This is what my blog is about: the flashes of insight that come while slogging through the homely tasks of family life. I say in my bio, at right, that I am a follower of muse (open to inspiration in creative pursuits), but perhaps it should say that I am a seeker of epiphanies. It's my favorite thing about God, the first thing I almost always thank him for: that he reveals truth to us, through his word, prayer, friends, children, nature. So I keep my eyes and ears open because I am an epiphany junkie. My girlfriend Tris once said something to the effect of, "Your revelations happen so frequently I don't expect all of them to stick."

It's true, they don't all stick. But I'm still watching for them. In a sink full of dirty dishes. In a board game played with my daughter. In a conversation with my neighbor. In a comment made by my brother. Even in the cream colored grid of my stylish new calendar. Join me on this expectant search for insight, won't you? It's an exciting way to live.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Changing Coffee Makers, Changing My Life

I am looking for a coffeemaker that will change my life.

I'd like to say that I start every day with a cup of coffee. But in fact, I start every day wrestling with the paraphernalia necessary to make a cup of coffee.

It goes something like this: grind the beans. Go to put fresh grounds in the pot but find that yesterday's are still in there. Clean filter basked. Rinse yesterday's burnt coffee from pot. Go to fill pot. Find that Britta is empty. Fill Britta. Wait for Britta to slooooowwwwwly filter water. Fill pot. Fill water reservoir. Push button. Wait for coffee. Wipe grounds off counter while waiting.

It's a discouraging start to the day, especially since I have to do it all pre-caffeination. So when my mom gave me a new auto-start programmable coffee maker for Christmas, I was thrilled. But not so thrilled that I didn't try to exchange it. I went and upgraded it for an auto-start plus auto grind version. One less step in the morning! Then I got it home and realized I would have to clean out the auto grinder every day. So I went back and exchanged it again.

But you know what I discovered? Now I just do all the coffee paraphernalia wrestling at night instead of in the morning. There are still old grounds to be cleaned and a pot to be scrubbed and water to filtered. To say nothing of the fact that the first two nights I set the timer wrong so it didn't even brew in the morning.

It's been a "wherever you go there you are" kind of revelatory experience for me. The problem is not the coffee maker. The problem is me. Listen to my husband laugh as I reveal to you this obvious fact: I hate dealing with mundane details. And because I hate it, I don't do it. And because I don't do it, chaos reigns -- in small ways -- throughout my life.

Hubby and I had an illuminating discussion about these things over the weekend. I've been laboring under the delusion that Jeff has a better memory than me and is also someone who just gets everything done right the first time. But in fact, he says he double and triple checks almost everything he does. He doesn't leave the house without going over a checklist two or three times to make sure he has everything he needs. He reads e-mails three times before he sends them.

All this time I've been thinking that my husband is incredibly smart but inefficient (it takes him much longer to do things than I).

Now I realize, he's just living by the old carpenter's axiom, "Measure twice and cut once." I'm too busy moving on to the next thing to measure twice, rinse out the coffee pot, or put the grocery list in my purse. And I pay for my haste by having to do lots of things twice, step over piles of dirty clothes, and scrubbing lots of old coffee stains out of things.

The reason I forget things is not because I don't have the right calendar or organizer. Another old carpenter's saying, "A good carpenter never blames his tools." In modern terms: A good housewife doesn't blame her coffee maker or her smart phone.

So, in order to have a wonderful 2012, I am going to become enormously attentive to details, or more importantly, slow down long enough to pay attention to details.

Here are all the things I am going to do from now on:

Rinse the coffee pot and basket when I drink my last cup.
Close the cereal bag and put the box away before I eat my cereal.
Hang up my wet towel right after I shower.
Put my clothes away right after I take them off.
Bring my coupon to Joann's.
Bring my grocery list to the grocery store (instead of leaving it on the kitchen table).
Actually buy everything that is on my grocery list.
Bring the things I need to return to Target to Target.
Write down people's addresses in the address book instead of on an envelope that I then mail, and then have to ask for their address again the next time I mail them something.
Bring my daughters' immunization cards to the doctor's office.

Sound doable? No, not really. But how wonderful would life be if I actually did do them?

I think I'll go slooowwwly double check my list, pick my top three new behaviors, and give that a try. Check in with me later, and I'll let you know how it's going.