Snapdragons and Butterflies

purple snapdragon and white butterfly - medium charcoal pencil and color pencil with a touch of ink and pastel
Snapdragons and Butterflies

Today is my maternal Grandmother’s birthday.  If I’ve done my math correctly she would have been 101 years young today. I have many wonderful memories of her which include learning how to properly knead the dough, the taste of homemade bread fresh from the oven, and playing  “boutique” for hours on end.  However, the image that most often comes to mind when I think of her is one of snapdragons and butterflies.

It seemed appropriate to post an essay entitled Snapdragons and Butterflies to commemorate her birthday.  I wrote it in December 2010 and it’s one of my earliest completed pieces as well as one of my favorites.  It also seemed fitting to illustrate the post with my first solo drawing.  Although my original idea was to create a realistic interpretation of my favorite flower I decided a version that was more child-like was the way to go. Colored pencils were the medium of choice as well as a touch of pastel and ink.

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Snapdragons and Butterflies

Snapdragons and butterflies will always and forever remind me of my grandmother. Many gardeners shy away from the delightful, but delicate flower – however, she embraced the challenge associated with bringing the brightly colored blossoms to life.

I could have spent hours, and probably did, pinching the tiny blossoms, making the dragon’s mouth come to life and then releasing it.

I recall there always being tiny white butterflies dancing around the flowers. Were they vying for attention or simply enjoying the playfulness?

Snapdragons seem so delicate on the outside, but if they can survive tiny hands repeatedly pinching to open and see the dragon’s mouth, you know they are strong. Snapdragons are much like my grandmother.

Her name was Lucy, not a common name, which is fitting because she was not an ordinary woman.

She was beautiful, whatever the setting. She might be dressed to the nines for church or a social event, or digging in the garden, tending to her flowers or vegetables, a worn work shirt tied around her waist.

I was always so proud to be a guest in her Sunday school class. Her hand encircled mine as we entered the room, and my heart would pound with love as her students rushed to greet her.

Like a flower has a fragrance, so did my grandmother’s kitchen. It was always filled with the aroma of meals made from scratch and with love. My eyes lit up when I saw the peas I had laboriously shelled as part of the delicious meal.

She somehow knew how to make something ordinary into something wonderful. How we cousins used to squabble over who got the ‘special knife’, the knife that rattled when you picked it up. To this day, I like to think it really was a precious jewel, and not a scrap of metal that was trapped in the handle of that knife.

Wherever she went, she knew someone. Oh, How agonizing it was to have to stop and wait while she visited with ‘just one more’ friend or relative. Little did I know, the memory would make me smile someday.

My favorite times were when it was ‘our’ time, we’d giggle and laugh as she tucked me into bed. The ritual never changed, as she playfully pinched my chin, nose and cheeks before the final kiss goodnight.

Her spirit touches me whenever I think about snapdragons and butterflies.

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In loving memory of my Grandma Lucy. Dedicated to my mom and my daughter, the two most important women in my life, and with gratitude for four generations of beauty and grace.

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Two Shorts a Long and a Short

While I doubt the conversation among the neighbors who shared the same party line as my grandparents ever got as racy as it did between Doris Day and Rock Hudson in Pillow Talk, I would venture a guess that there was more than the occasional eavesdropper who picked up a ringtone that didn’t belong to them and hoped to pick up some juicy gossip to share over morning coffee.

It baffled me that instead of hearing a dial tone when you picked up the receiver you might hear someone else’s conversation and you couldn’t use the phone until they were done, not to mention the fact that the phone might ring all day long and not a single call would be for you.  In those days the pattern of “briiiings” designated the family and everyone knew which pattern belonged to whom and there was nothing to stop someone from picking up the phone “just because.”  I wonder if people, especially teenagers, had secret codes to keep their neighbors and parents from knowing what they were up to.

As technology evolved households moved from party lines to private lines and teen lines.  I’m not sure if the person who originated the concept of a phone line dedicated to teenagers was a brilliant marketer for the phone company or the frustrated parent of a fourteen year old girl. In any case, I’m sure I wasn’t alone in thanking them for my privacy and freedom from phone call time limits. (Who knew that the concept of “charging for minutes” may have originated thirty-five years ago).

I spent hours with the base of my red, white, and blue candlestick phone resting on my stomach and the phone piece propped against my ear sharing secrets and giggling dreams.  We didn’t have caller ID or voicemail, no one worried about having their number published in the phone book, and the biggest risk of being embarrassed was that a younger sibling was brave enough to listen in and repeat what they heard.

Our social network was our friends and their parents, we wouldn’t have considered sharing personal information with strangers, and my biggest fear for an hour or two was how my parents discovered my plans and whether or not the ‘bugaphone’ they claimed to own was real or not.  The biggest decision was whether or not to answer the phone and parents taught kids about technology not the other way around.  If it weren’t for my daughter, managing my landline would still be a mystery.

“Mom, do you know what the rapid beeping noise is when you pick up the phone?” Katie asked.

“I have no idea, but it’s been doing that for months now.”

She pressed the menu button on the phone, “Here, let me show you what it is.”

“The mailbox is full. No more messages can be received.  Please delete old messages,” the mechanical voice said.

Ah ha!

Nowadays I when I want to share something I have a hard time deciding if I should update my status, pin it to a board, write on someone’s wall, or post something to my blog (and if so, which one).  I try to remember who will see what depending on which one I choose and I wonder if my automatic tweets fool anyone into thinking that I actually understand Twitter.

Then of course there are private messages, emails, text messages, Skype, and last but not least the option of an old fashioned phone call or handwritten letter to share information of a more private sort.  Although based on what I see some people post and tweet I’m not sure that everyone understands they have other options.

Looking back it doesn’t seem like listening for “two shorts a long and a short” to know the call was yours or the notion of eavesdropping on your neighbors was complicated or foreign after all.

Introducing Dr. Semi Colon or should it be Ms. Comma?

This morning I checked my email and the recurring theme from my favorite department stores was Prom! Prom! Prom!  I was reminded of trips to the mall and poring over websites with Katie; we spent hours eliminating dresses that were too expensive or too revealing and giggled uncontrollably about the dresses that made the model look more like a giant marshmallow Peep than a Prom Queen.

We’ve progressed from laughing about peep-like prom dresses to snickering to the point of being dangerously close to snorting regarding the mystery of what kind of person would design pajama jeans, let alone wear them.  Among many things, our regular diet of humor includes her latest dating escapades, my most recent episode of getting lost, and more often than I’d like to admit, my complete inability to grasp the proper use of a semi colon.

We exchange phone calls and smiley faces in between her classes and job, text messages to get me through the boredom of the stationery bike, and an occasional Facebook post for a quick update or to share pictures.  We make the most of the traditional ways of communicating with the exception of voice mail.

In the world according to Katie a single missed call means call me back when you can and a series of missed calls means “I need to talk to you now.”  Emails and text messages tend to be our main forms of communication if you measure it in sheer volume; last count we’ve exchanged around two hundred text messages and close to as many emails in the past month. I’d have to say our emails tend to be focused around my latest post or upcoming travel plans and not who’s at the gym.

Last summer I asked her if she’d be my editor and help keep me on the straight and narrow when it comes to commas vs. semi colons, whether or not a phrase should be highlighted with “quotation marks,” and to point out pesky run on sentences or paragraphs that just flat out don’t make sense.  It wasn’t long before I dubbed her Dr. Semi Colon and after a few posts with far too many incorrectly connected independent clauses, Katie declared she had created a monster.

For five dollars a post I take a deep breath, attach it to an email with a subject line of “post for your review” and a message that is some variation of “I’m not sure about this one.  I’ll be curious to hear what you think,” click “send” hold my breath and wait.  Let the revisions begin.

It’s not uncommon for me to send and updated version within hours and sometimes minutes of sending the original with the subject line of “use this one please.”  I’m not sure if my biggest challenge is the misuse of semi colons and commas or the overuse of quotation marks, and let’s not even talk about when one should use a colon.

Thankfully my editor does her best to spare my feelings and to educate me, but sometimes she has no choice but to tell the truth.  After months of trying to write something that was punctuated perfectly, I got the email and edited version that was as close to that as I was probably ever going to get.  Wanting to share my near mastery of punctuation with her I picked up the phone and dialed.

“Wow, only one correction.  Maybe I’m finally getting the hang of this semi colon thing,” I said.

“Umm…well…Mommy…I hate to burst your bubble, but you only used one semi colon in that piece and you used it wrong.”

Drat!

We recently collaborated on a piece that, after three revisions, we declared ready to submit to a magazine with the following email conversation.

“Shall I submit it and see if we get selected?”  I wrote.

“ummmm, duh!”

When I started writing a couple of years ago, little did I know that one of the best parts of it would be the lessons in punctuation, the exchange of ideas, the comical commentary noted in the margins of my manuscripts, and the joy of having my daughter as my editor.

How to Lose a Guy in Seven Days

Last Saturday morning my cell phone rang, then the house phone rang, the cell phone rang again and then Christian’s phone rang, it was Katie. I wasn’t home at the time but I knew this to be the case because I had two missed calls on my cell phone which meant there had to be one missed call on the land line and there was big news in her world if the fourth call was to Christian.

She will call four times or as many times as it takes until she actually reaches a live person to deliver the news to rather than leave a voicemail. Katie is not a believer in voicemail, she will stand by her position that information is best delivered through direct conversation or a text message and that a ‘missed call’ on your cell phone is enough to say “I called, call me back when you have a chance.” Case in point, we’ve exchanged seventy-nine text messages in the past eight days.

“I talked to Katie. She has a date today,” Christian said.

“What! She has a date and she didn’t tell me?” I replied.

“Mom, did you check your missed calls?” he responded wryly.

I called her immediately to get the scoop. Her date was for lunch with a boy from one of her classes, his name and the fact that they met in class was about all I got out of her. I waited all afternoon and into the evening to hear how the date had gone. I speculated that it had either gone really well or really poorly when I still hadn’t heard from her and it was eleven pm. I have to admit it was about all I could do to respect her privacy and wait for her to call me.

I walked around with my cell phone on Sunday waiting anxiously.

“Hi Mommy,” she said.

“Well, how’d it go?” I asked.

“It was fun…he already asked me out on two more dates…”

“But….” I prodded.

“He didn’t pay for lunch,” she responded.

We talked about it and I suggested that maybe it was because he was a poor college student or that perhaps he was nervous and didn’t know the proper protocol.

“Ummm, the lunch was fifteen dollars and he picked up the ticket and said ‘Wanna go halvies?” was her reply.

On Wednesday she called to inform me that she was already thinking of ways to “let him down easy.” Apparently in addition to calling far more often than necessary after a first date, for which he didn’t pick up the tab, he also made the fatal error of leaving more than one voicemail just to say he was having a good day.

By Saturday morning the die had been cast and the only decision left to be made was whether it would end with an awkward conversation before or after the ‘date’ to the basketball game that evening. It turns out that it was too late to cancel the date; he had already purchased the tickets.

I couldn’t wait to hear the details so I called her as early as I thought I could get away with on a Sunday morning. She was at work so I got the recap via text.

“The bball game last night was so awkward, but I think he got the picture. Haha. Whoops…o well.”

Later, after hashing over the events of the evening and the likelihood of the remaining need for that ‘awkward conversation’ we agreed (with much laughter) that the key ingredient to losing a guy in seven days was ownership of a winter coat that is big enough to take up the space of a tightly packed army duffle bag and the placement of said coat squarely on the bench between you and your date.

I’m not sure what she’ll do come summertime.

Seventh Inning Stretch

Rosenblatt Stadium original home of the college world series

I’m not a huge baseball fan, but I thoroughly enjoyed attending the College World Series in Omaha, Nebraska.  I haven’t been for a few years now but I still remember the thrill of finding a parking spot on one of the narrow streets of South Omaha, followed by a hot and sticky walk toward the stadium anticipating the foot long hotdog and freshly squeezed lemonade as much as the game itself. 

I always felt a small lump in my throat and a shiver down my spine when we emerged from the neighborhood and saw The Road to Omaha sculpture in front of the Red and Blue awning of the stadium.  There’s something special about the way the artist immortalized the joyful feeling of winning the championship through the image of three young ball players hoisting a fourth onto their shoulders, his hand reaching to the air with the universal symbol meaning  ‘we’re number one.’

For one week out of the summer, strangers from all across the country come together in a spirit of competition and camaraderie that turns many a non-baseball lover into a fan of the series. Among many long time traditions including sunburns, beach balls on the field, and the wave, is the seventh inning stretch, it’s the point in the game where both the fans and the players need to take a breather. 

Headed into week ten of Walking in This World (Julia Cameron) I found myself in need of something akin to a seventh inning stretch.  My professional work life had been particularly challenging and full of commotion when I tackled the chapter Discovering a Sense of Camaraderie for the first time.  After careful consideration I knew my head wasn’t in the right place to absorb the message let alone write about it, I put the book aside knowing I would recognize when the time was right to pick it back up.  Three weeks later I read the chapter and performed the tasks for a second time.  In doing so I realized both how much I learned and how much I would have missed if I hadn’t taken a break.

For the tenth chapter in a row I wondered how Julia knew me so well.  She introduced it with the notion that “[d]espite our Lone Ranger mythology, the artist’s life is not lived in isolation.”  The first section is entitled Keep Drama on the Stage. Oh boy…I have a tendency to let commotion overwhelm and consume me and when that happens I can become quite dramatic and have been known to make mountains out of molehills when I lose perspective. 

I paused for a long time after reading Julia’s opening comments, “Artists are dramatic.  Art is dramatic.  When artists are not making artistic dramas, they tend to make personal ones.  Feeling off center, they demand center stage.”  I realized that as the disorder in my day job increased I was writing less, taking no pictures, exercise was non-existent, and the amount of time I spent wailing and gnashing my teeth had reached an all-time high.  I had to stop and consider the fact that although the commotion in my life was real that perhaps in some ways I had fallen prey to what the author refers to as “Artistic anorexia, the avoidance of the pleasure of the creative… ” 

I took heart as she described one friend who develops “health problems on the cusp of every major concert tour” and another  friend who “loses all humor and sense of personal perspective every time a writing deadline looms…People like these should furnish seat belts for those riding shotgun in their lives.”  It made me realize that I’m not alone and although my ‘drama’ isn’t always a result of a creative deadline (although there have been a fair share of those as well) and it made me thankful for the people in my life that ride along with me on the rollercoaster and who don’t hesitate to let me know when it’s time to snap out of it. 

Julia likens a sense of humor to a sense of scale: “a sense of scale is what gives our work proportion, perspective, and personality;” when we lose our sense of humor we also lose our sense of scale.  I thought the bumper sticker she quoted was brilliant, “Angels fly because they take themselves lightly.”

I’ve always thought of myself as being a person with a great sense of humor and one who uses humor to get through tough times.  What I’ve come to realize is that when I start feeling a loss of control about the situation at hand I also start losing my sense of humor and perspective.  I turn into Eeyore and I not only feed on the drama I’ve created, I con myself into thinking that obsessing about my dramatic dilemma is far more important than anything else I could be doing.  I need to adopt the mantra suggested by the author, “Sudden problems in my life usually indicate a need to work on my art.”  Creativity is fueled by the full range of emotions not just the positive ones. What we create, what defines our ‘art,’ can take on many forms, it can be anything from a masterpiece of a painting, to a beautifully prepared meal, or as simple as arranging flowers in a vase to brighten the winter gloom.

Sometimes breaking through the wall of self-induced or maybe even self-indulgent drama is as easy as Julia cleverly points out, “It is probably not an accident that the verbs exorcise and exercise are so similarly spelled.”  I have to admit the comment hit home and I’m now back to regular physical activity and a much improved perspective about life.

As with most things, if we enjoy doing them we strive to improve and to be the best we can, art is no different.  “As artists, we are not interested merely in expressing ourselves…We are interested in expressing ourselves more and more accurately, more and more beautifully.”  In order to do so, we must be open to being teachable and we need to strive to find excellence in our interactions and our resources.  She spoke of how “teachers and students seem to intersect by divine planning more than by set curriculum.”  Based on my own experiences, I believe this to be true.

I also think a ‘teacher’ can take on many forms and isn’t limited to a classroom or mentoring relationship.  It can be a chance meeting at an author’s luncheon, a conversation in an airport, or even the gift of a book.  Life is made up of teaching moments if we are open to them, I think this is true for art as well.  It’s important to remember that “[g]uidance and generosity are always closer at hand than we may think.  It always falls on  us to be open to receiving guidance and to pray for the willingness and openness to know when it arrives.”

In addition to teachers we also need friends.  I enjoyed the discussion about the various roles friends play in our lives in the section Before, During and After Friends. The author refers to the need to have friends who fit well in the various phases of our creative stages and sense of self.  We need friends who see the swan but also understand that at the same time she looks beautiful and at peace, her feet are churning under the surface and she’s trying to stay afloat.  One size does not fit all when it comes to friends, we need people in our lives to “help us leap and land, help us celebrate and mourn,” and they may not always be the same person.

One of the most important friends in our lives could quite possibly be the person that Julia refers to as a “catcher’s mitt…someone whose particular intelligence lights your own.”  It’s the person who acknowledges with gentle honesty if the work has a ways to go and encourages you to keep going.  They don’t build you up with false praise and they don’t destroy you with harsh criticism.  It’s “[s]omeone avidly crouched near home plate.  Somebody slapping his mitt a little eagerly and saying, “Put it here.”

Life is not meant to be lived in isolation and art is intended to be shared.  It’s critical to the creative process to be discerning about relationships and their impact on us.  Discerning doesn’t mean snobbish it means smart and self-aware and is the foundation for a sense of camaraderie, creativity, and happiness.  It’s also about maintaining a sense of humor and personal perspective even if it sometimes takes a ‘seventh inning stretch’ to get back in the game.

Happy New Ear!

New Year’s Eve is a little like High School, for some reason it comes with an expectation that it should be the best night of the year, but in the same way that High School rarely turns out to be the best years of your life (thank goodness)  it’s often disappointing and not nearly as exciting as you hoped it would be.  More often than not I’m sound asleep when the New Year rolls in.

This year I gave the assignment of ‘what to do for New Year’s Eve’ to my oldest son Jeff.  I hate that duty as much as my kids hate the task of thinking up the dinner menu so I figured turnabout was fair play.  He diligently sifted through the search results for things to do in Philly on New Year’s Eve to find something suitable for a middle aged mom, a teenage brother, and himself – a twenty something single guy. 

After discarding dozens of ‘over twenty-one’ and ‘not appropriate for mom’ options, he found the perfect outing, Fireworks on the Battleship New Jersey.  There were two options – twilight and midnight. Given the fact that we were driving to an unfamiliar destination, none of us are fond of the cold, and I didn’t want to drive home on I95 after midnight we opted for the early show and a nice homemade dinner to follow.

With reservations made, tickets ready for pick up, and directions in hand we headed down I95 and across the Ben Franklin Bridge into Camden, New Jersey.  Thankfully I had not one, but two navigators because the signage was unclear.  After a few near wrong turns and some confusion about where to park we found the garage, secured a spot, and walked to the battleship.

The ship was visible as we exited onto the street and the mixture of orange and pink that illuminated the cloudy sky made a perfect backdrop for the impressive vessel and its massive guns.  We stopped for a few obligatory snapshots along the way, surprisingly without too much resistance and from the boys.

I’m a little embarrassed to say that it didn’t occur to me to look up any history about the ship until the day after the event. The ship was built at the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard in 1942.  It was launched on December 7, 1942 and made her final voyage home in September 1999.  It’s hard to fathom that we stood on the deck of history waiting to watch fireworks and welcome 2012.

The deck was lined with people of all ages, shapes, and sizes.  I couldn’t help but tap my foot and move my head to beat of the music and I eyed the group of people line dancing with a bit of jealousy.

“Don’t do it Mom.  Don’t dance.  You’ll embarrass me,” Christian pleaded.

“You mean you don’t want me to do this?” I laughed and cha-cha’d.

“Nooo…don’t do it,” he grinned and looked away.

Before long Jeff and I were twisting our way down low to (shout) a little bit softer now and raising our hands and singing out Shout along with several hundred strangers and much to Christian’s chagrin.  The dancing ended and the fireworks began with an impromptu sing-along to Neil Diamond’s Sweet Caroline…Bah Bah Baaah!

The fireworks were spectacular.

We made our way through the congested traffic and back over the bridge to home.  I surprised the boys with party hats and noisemakers to go along with the pork tenderloin, garlic roasted potatoes and green beans.  Of course the hats were too small for people and too big for the dogs but we had a good laugh and made a lot of noise.

We passed the hours between dinner and midnight with a round of guitar hero and a game of monopoly.  The three of us declared it one of the best New Year’s Eve’s ever, counted down with the people in Times Square, raised our glasses, and welcomed in 2012 with the toast Jeff coined when he was two.

Happy New Ear!

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I’ll Love You Forever, I’ll Like You For Always

It seemed like waiting to pick out a Christmas tree until Katie arrived in Pennsylvania, the week of Christmas, was a brilliant idea.  We’d pick out the perfect tree sometime between the 18th and the 23rd of December, set it up on Christmas Eve eve and decorate the tree when Jeff flew in on the 24th.  We’d enjoy all of the Christmas with less of the mess.

On the day she arrived we ran out of daylight, time, and motivation but being the eternal optimist (that is when I’m not worrying) I knew we still had plenty of time and there would be no issue getting a tree that would be ‘just right.’  I have to admit I started getting a little nervous when the place we usually buy our trees from closed down their operation a week before Christmas.  However since there were two other places nearby I stood steadfast in my confidence right up until I woke up in a cold sweat at 4:00 a.m. the morning of the 23rd, I was suddenly certain that all of the Christmas trees were gone. I tossed and turned while I anxiously racked my brain for plan B, C, or Z.

Thankfully I had to take Christian to school on Friday morning which gave me the perfect excuse to take a detour on the way home and scope out the remaining trees.  After all if I had gotten up and driven by the Christmas tree place with no other reason to leave the house, it would have sounded nuts.  I breathed a big sigh of relief when I saw there were more than a few trees left, a bit scraggly, maybe not as ‘perfect’ as I had hoped, but then again it’s all a matter of perspective.

Frantic to get to the tree place before the final rush of procrastinators, I decided it was not a morning for sleeping in and I rousted my reluctant daughter out of bed and by 9:30 a.m. we were at the lot scoping out the remaining trees.  We picked the best one, deemed it ‘perfect’ and watched in awe as the guy from the nursery spun a clever four strand web of twine over the tree and through the car to secure it tightly to the roof.

Unlike last year, the trunk slid easily into the tree stand and there was no need for a last minute trip to Sears to buy a new one.  After a bit of good natured squabbling about which direction to move the tree we stood back to admire it.

“It’s lopsided,” Christian declared.

“Don’t worry, it’ll fluff out overnight and be just fine,” I replied.

Christmas Eve arrived I surveyed the tree and it had fluffed out overnight, but much to my chagrin no matter how many times I spun it around, Christian’s declaration remained true.  The shape of the tree was far from perfect and although the worst side of the tree was positioned into the corner I couldn’t deny that it leaned to the left.

After a trip to the airport, a stop at the grocery store, dinner preparations, gift wrapping, and a very strange church service the tree was no straighter than when I had looked at it earlier in the day. I was a little disappointed in it, my kids however, declared it to be just right.

“All you have to do is look at it from this angle and you can’t even tell it’s crooked,” said Jeff.

“And once we get the lights and ornaments on it’ll be even better,” Christian added.

I smiled as I watched my kids transform from three young adults into giggling children while they decorated the tree.  After some lighthearted debate they agreed to hang all of the stars and glass balls they could rescue, the traditional wooden figures and angels, a keepsake from the Caribbean, and even the homemade felt snowman who has only ever had one eye.  I had to admit the tree ended up being ‘perfect.’

Christmas morning arrived and we settled in to exchange gifts and a lot of laughter.  I passed out the presents and we decided the opening order.

“You know you have to go last Mommy.  If you hadn’t jumped the gun and opened your other present early there would be more under the tree for you, so now you have to wait,” Katie teased me.

(The story of the full length mirror and the early Fed Ex delivery is one I will never live down.)

After many gifts, smiles, thank you’s and hugs it was time to open my present.  I had no idea what to expect and I felt they had already been way too generous with the gift of the mirror.  My fingers trembled as I worked my way through the tape and wrapping paper.  I opened the box, reached for the flat orange envelope and slid a spiral bound gift with a shutterfly logo onto my lap.  I turned it over and my kids grinned as my eyes filled with tears.

On the cover was a picture of the four of us and a quote from Love You Forever (Robert N. Munsch and Sheila McGraw) a book I read to each of them no fewer than a thousand times, “I’ll love you forever, I’ll like you for always.  As long as I’m living, my mommy you’ll be.”  Tears continued to stream down my face as I flipped from one personalized month to the next, each page contained a collage of digital memories.

Jeff and Christian nodded and smiled while Katie exclaimed, “We hit it out of the ball park boys!”

They did indeed.

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Fed Ex Delivers

The one thing I’ve been missing since I moved into my house is a full length mirror.  For the past year the task of determining whether or not an outfit worked or not has been a bit complicated.

The first step is to rotate in front of the  waist high mirror on my vanity and make sure my top matches my skirt or slacks, make the decision between tucked or un-tucked, and whether or not I should wear a belt. Next it’s down to the dining room to look in the mirror over the buffet to ensure that everything above the waist matches, is properly buttoned, and there are no tags poking out. The final check point is the mirrored curio cabinet in the living room where  if I stand ‘just so’ I can see my feet well enough to decide between heels or flats, boots or shoes, and come summertime whether I should wear flip flops or strappy sandals.

For the past year Christian has been asking me to buy a full length mirror but there was always something else we needed more, and my routine while not perfect seemed sufficient. Although I would have to admit that it probably didn’t work as well for someone who is six foot five as it did for someone who is five foot four (that’s my story and I’m sticking to it).

I was finally ready to buy one, however since the holidays were just around the corner I had the brilliant idea to put it on my Christmas list and hope for a good after holiday sale if I didn’t find a tall skinny box under the tree.

Yesterday I was surprised to see the Fed Ex truck stop in front of the house. I was even more surprised to see that he was carrying a tall skinny box with the picture of a full length mirror on it.  I knew in an instant that my mom had sent me an additional surprise for Christmas as she was the only one I had mentioned it to.

After a quick and relatively painless assembly I called her to say thank you.

“Did you send me a mirror?” I asked with a giggle.

“No, I didn’t,” she replied.

“Uh oh.”

We pondered the possibilities and came to the conclusion that the originator of the package had to be Katie and that Fed Ex had delivered the package a day too early.  I spent the next thirty minutes trying to figure out how I was going to break the news to Katie or if there was some way that I could dis-assemble, repackage, and pretend it hadn’t happened.

The phone rang and I didn’t have to look at the caller I.D. to know it was Katie. I had no doubt it was my daughter and that most likely I had already been betrayed by the wonders of modern technology and on-line tracking.

Simultaneous waves of guilt and relief swept through me as I handed the phone to Christian, guilt because I should have fessed up and relief because I had a few more minutes to contemplate a suitable remedy to the situation.  My relief was short lived.

“Mommy!  Don’t you know that when you receive a package around the holidays that is not addressed to you that you shouldn’t open it, let alone assemble it?” she exclaimed.

“Honey, I am so sorry I had no idea it was from you.  I thought for sure my mom had sent it,” I replied.

“Argh, Fed Ex was supposed to deliver it on Monday while you were at work and I was there.  Not Saturday when you are at home and I’m still in Chicago.  Who’d have thought that they’d be so darn efficient, deliver it early and foil Christmas?” she said, followed by a heavy sigh.

“Well…on the other hand, now you don’t have to assemble it and you can use it the whole time you’re here,” I countered.

“Good point Mompa.”

By the time we were done talking we were laughing so hard we were both crying.  Especially when we imagined the poor customer service person’s face if they got a complaint that the delivery was not on time because it was early.

Mirror, Mirror on the Wall…

I have to admit I enjoy a good love story every now and again and there’s nothing more romantic than listening to a beautiful song in candle lit darkness in the arms of a lover.  I think even men secretly enjoy the romantic component found in many books and movies.

I had never thought about why there are so many love songs and stories or why Romance is the hottest selling genre in fiction until I began reading week 5 of Walking in This World (Julia Cameron). The chapter is entitled Discovering a Sense of Personal Territory and Julia was right on target when she alerted me to “Expect to feel heightened emotions as energy rebounds into your own court.”

At first I wondered how in the world I was going to write about the first section, Sexuality vs. Caretaking.  After all, both my parents and my kids read my blog, and well, talking about sexuality could be awkward.

As I read on, I realized that while she introduced the section by saying, “As artists, our sexual energy and our creative energy are very closely intertwined.” She wasn’t talking about the act of sex, but about our human sensuality and passion for life.  Passion and love are words that are often associated with each other and passion is the fuel for art, “creativity is sensual, and so are we.”  Maybe that’s why love is the central theme of so much art.

She also explained how relationships with our partners, friends, and family affect our inner core. And maybe most importantly, how we as artists and as people, “must be alert to what people ask us for and reward us for being. Our partners and friends do condition us into behaviors quite unconsciously.”

When we have people in our lives that stir our imagination and return our investment in them we are inspired and we create, we dance, we sing, we cook, we write, and we love, in short – we thrive.  When keeping the company of those who are overly needy and poke fun at our crazy ideas we shrivel and hide.

She spoke about the necessity of festivity and playfulness in life and for the need to allow ourselves to be child-like so that we can grow.  She challenged a perception that many of us fall prey to: “life is dreary and difficult and something to be soldiered through…the truth is that as children, many of us expected much more.”

She reminded me that when I was young I sang at the top of my lungs, (my microphone was a curling iron), made up dance moves to Cherokee Nation in the living room, produced plays in the basement, and pranced around the neighborhood pretending I was a horse.  I played barber shop and boutique; I was filled with enthusiasm, my imagination ran wild, and I dreamed big dreams.

One of the things I’ve struggled with as my writing dream grows larger and my passion for it swells, is the notion of balance.  I’ve chastised myself about feeling frustrated or even resentful when the phone rings at the wrong time, homework assistance takes priority, or my ‘real’ job gets in the way. Then I wonder if I’m being selfish and maybe I should consider putting my dream on hold.

We’ve all heard the saying, “Charity begins at home,” and if you’re like me you interpret that to mean take care of your family and friends before you take care of others. Maybe we should take it one step further as Julia does, “It means start with being nice to yourself, your authentic self, then try being nice to everyone else.”

That’s not to say we should become self-indulgent or self-absorbed as those behaviors can be as damaging to our creative nature as putting everyone else first can be. It means that we should be honest about who we are, what we need and that we don’t need to take on the responsibility of everyone else’s shortfalls. It’s ok to say no and we should take the time to be nice to ourselves, it’s good for us. “Clarifying ourselves to others brings honest connections that are grounded in mutual respect.  Honesty starts with us…Artificial acceptance of people and circumstances we resent makes us ill tempered. A little self-love does wonders for our personality, and for our art.”

I found the concept of Energy Debts and the idea of thinking about looking at the way a person spends energy in the same way we think about spending money fascinating. Personal boundaries are like a financial budget.  If we spend our creative energy judiciously and do not invest in situations or people that leave us feeling emotionally drained and creatively impoverished our lives will be richer as well as the world around us.

The final task this week was to write a letter to myself, an honest look in the mirror. A reflection on how I’ve been leading my life and ways that I chronically sell myself short and sabotage my own dreams. The task was designed to generate suggestions for change and to identify ways to “invest in yourself energetically.”

Throughout the five pages of my letter, a common theme appeared, “don’t worry so much about who’s the ‘fairest of them all,’ just enjoy being you.”