Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Overheard in the office ….

Oh, yeah … Hook. That’s the one with Robin Williams in it, right? Peter Pan? At Christmas? Well, whatever, it’s snowing, right? Hang on [clicking of keyboard keys – presumably looking up the movie on IMDB]. Oh. Wait. No … I don’t know if I saw that one in the theatre. It came out in 1991. I was five.

Oh snap. And that’s the first time in my whole life I’ve ever felt old at the office. I’m not going to tell you what I was doing in 1991, but I was definitely seeing movies in the theatre. All by myself. Possibly even on a date.


Like it or not, we either add to the darkness of indifference and out-and-out evil which surrounds us or we light a candle to see by.

¾Madeleine L’Engle

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Life Without Cable

It's been a summer without cable television. I'm making that distinction because even without the 24/7 feed from your local provider, your television can still function (hello DVD player). So maybe it's been a summer without television that has commercials. Whatever. You get my point. There's part of me that would like to claim that we've taken this road for idealistic, moral reasons that involve health, wellness, and a departure from commercialism. And I suppose that might comprise a teeny tiny part of our choice. But really, in the end, it was about cutting costs. Either way - no TV.

I think I can honestly say that my family missed it more than I did (in the beginning). Did I miss it at all? Well, sure. I'm a huge foodie and can spend hours going back and forth between programming on The Food Network and Bravo watching chefs, wannabe chefs, and cheftestants doing their thing. I also like to occasionally visit the twenty-four hour news cycle - just to catch up. And yes, I've succumbed to the thralls of some reality programming over the past decade. Survivor - of course. Bethenny Frankel's shows - whatever - you know you've watched at least one. And (gulp) the Real Housewives franchise. Okay, that one? I don't miss so much. I have enough drama from real housewives in my real life without getting caught up in the lunacy of the various housewives-of-another-city and their ridiculousness. No. I don't miss that one at all.

So what does one do when there's no TV to be had in the house? If you're my husband, you immediately decide to re-watch several years worth of your favorite series (Buffy the Vampire Slayer - which was then bumped by Battle Star Gallactica). If you're my daughter, you immediately jump on to streaming Netflix to watch every episode of Penguins of Madagascar and Scooby Doo. If you're me, you immediately turn on the jazz station and run around the house yelling at everyone to turn off the damn TVs. So, maybe not quite like that, but it was a transition for us all.

Yes, my husband made it through to about season five of Buffy (I watched occasionally - love that show), and finished Battle Star (I watched that one a lot - it's amazing). My daughter did get our money's worth out of Netflix streaming videos. Which is good since we're not paying those jacked up prices for full service anymore. But as a whole, I think we did move away from "screen time" even more than I anticipated and in better ways that I might have guessed.

We have read so much more this summer. And not just for book club. Although I can tell you that without the distraction of the Real Housewives, I actually completed our August book - A Confederacy of Dunces. Side note: I think I feel the same way about the characters in that book as I do about the cast of Real Housewives of New Jersey: appalling, loathsome, annoying, and not one redeemable character in the lot. We've rediscovered Michael Connelly and are reading through all his books. I read almost every book in two libraries on canning and knitting and have been quite productive with both endeavors this summer. We've taken more family outings (to the library and other places), we biked, we went to the farmer's market, and I've had a once-a-week date with a good friend that has grown that friendship tremendously. All of this because of no TV? It's possible - and probable - that we would have done many of these things anyway - even with TV chattering in the background. But I like to think that the lack of constant "empty programming" and the lack of advertizing bombardment has made a real impact on us. My daughter no longer quotes commercials, much to my delight, and I think we're more deliberate about what we do decide to spend time watching.

Either way, being without cable TV is not the end of modern living, or the end of entertainment, or the end of anything, really. Except maybe the end of empty, constant noise in the background of our lives. I think it's worth trying - even if you don't need to save the money. You might discover something absolutely delightful about life without it.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

What do You Want From Me?

It's possible that you came here today - thinking you knew what I was going to talk about. It's possible that if and when you heard about my absence a couple of weeks ago, you heard about the speech that I'd planned for that day - about how I'd managed to avoid reading the epic science fiction tome: Dune for twenty-five years. It's possible that you came here today specifically because you wanted to hear about Dune - maybe you're a fan, maybe you're not - but mainly you wanted to hear about why, I have in some cases, literally run away from the book.

I'm so sorry. I had a last minute change of heart, and I'm not talking about Dune today. Maybe later. But not today.

No, today I'm talking about something that has been more prevalent in my life lately than dandelions in the yard in the summer. It's been springing up all over the place: in my house, on Facebook, in emails, in the grocery store - surely somewhere on I-5. It's complaining. And if you ask me, which you haven't - but I'm going to pretend you did - it's not being done very well. There's whining. There's vague innuendo. There's wheedling. There's even been a bit of bait and switch. And it's not really accomplishing anything.

So imagine my surprise when I was flipping through a back issue of the Toastmaster magazine and discovered an article entitled "How to Complain Effectively." I like to strive for effectiveness in all areas of my life (and sometime in the lives of others), so let's give complaining our best effort. And personally, I really would like an answer to the question: what do you want from me?

According to the author, "there is an appropriate time and place to express unhappiness with a situation, just as there is a right and wrong way to do it." Conflict management and communication is a great skill to develop - it's actually part of what we work on here in Toastmasters (even if we don't realize it), and those tools and skills can be used by us - or anyone really - to effectively complain to someone - whether it's to a customer service representative, someone at work, or someone in our personal life.

Here are three things to think about and practice to make your complaining more effective.

Lesson One: Be Clear and Specific
What exactly is your complaint (this is the question otherwise known as "what is your problem?")? Did you miss a critical meeting because an airline delayed your flight? Did the dishwasher not get turned on - even though you left the little magnet indicator turned to "dirty?" Did your phone call not get returned in a timely manner? Here's an important point to remember with lesson number one: if you're complaining, you're probably already irritated and frustrated. Stay focused. Stay on point. Dragging in additional items, past history, or other things you're upset about will only cloud the issue and make your complaint ineffective.

Lesson Two: Present your Complaint in a Clear and Logical Format
For all intents and purposes, giving a good complaint is like giving a good speech. You have to grab their attention right from the get-go. For example, if you've received poor service at a restaurant that you eat at frequently, beginning your complaint with, "Oh my gosh, you suck! I can't believe you forgot the freaking' silverware - and I had to ask four times - and you didn't even bother to refill my water. Ever. At all. The entire night! Never mind the fact that you brought me the lamb when clearly, I ordered the Osso Bucco - are you stupid? I'm never coming back here again!" [big pause] is going to be far less effective than if you open by stating how often you frequent the restaurant; how pleased you've been with the service in the past, and how disappointing it is that tonight's service wasn't up to the usual standards of excellence. The introduction of your complaint should lead into the crux of your unhappiness (again - focused and specific!) and then close with what outcome you'd like to see. At the restaurant - do you want your money back? Do you want a credit for another meal? Don't be afraid to ask for what you want. Even if the answer is no, you won't have lost anything for trying.

Lesson Three: Whatever Your Gripe, Keep Requests Reasonable and Appropriate
Looking to get a raise? You're more likely to get it if it's within your job position's salary range. Sorry - we can't all have Bill Gates' take home pay. Want to spend more time with your friends? Take a chance and offer to do something you know they enjoy - even if it takes you out of your comfort zone. Need some help around the house? Ask for one or two things that your spouse can do on a regular basis that would help instead of making them feel like you want to throw the entire weight of all the chores in the house on their shoulders. And as with lessons one and two - stay focused and specific.

In addition to these lessons and more (here's your teaser to go read the article - it's in the May issue!), the author offers more tips to help us be more effective in presenting our complaints.

Think ahead about objections - and while you're thinking about them, develop a good counter response or two. It shows that you've thought about the issue, that you care about it, and that you're not just reacting to a situation. Give plenty of time for discussion - and don’t forget to let the other person speak.

Watch you tone. Okay, I'll admit it. I can fall down really easily on this one. Sarcasm - that's something I speak fluently, and one language you don't want to be bringing to the table when you're complaining. Again, as with a good speech, be aware of everything: body language, gestures, vocal variety. Stay focused on the issue at hand and how to solve it effectively.

Choose your battles. Wait until you have a legitimate complaint to do any actual complaining. This is hard. I know. It takes bit of introspection and willingness to not get tetchy about every detail. It requires you to give the benefit of the doubt - a lot. And to have a lot of grace - both for yourself and for those around you.

In the end, effective complaining is really just another form of problem solving, another form of communication, and another aspect to relationships. We have so many skills in Toastmasters that we can draw on to help make complaining more effective: be specific, be clear and logical in your presentation, and keep your requests reasonable. Above all else, I would ask you to remember the quote from the final Harry Potter that I shared in table topics last week:

Words are, in my not-so-humble opinion, our most inexhaustible source of magic. Capable of both inflicting injury, and remedying it.

Use your words wisely and with great care. Let the magic work for you.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Hanging at the Hub

On the best kind of night you could ask for in the Pacific Northwest: warm, with honeyed sunshine rolling down - promises of a crisp of cool later - I sat with my girlfriends at a restaurant pub at the end of the street. It is the kind of place with exposed beams and rolled up doors onto the veranda that makes me think of a great night in Brooklyn nearly fifteen years ago. Over plates of tasty goodness; glasses of crisp, mellow wines, and gallons of iced water, we came together and let our hearts flow all over the table. For a few hours we took off our hats that said, "wife," "mom," and "worker," and were for a moment, simply, "the girls."

Everything is fair game when we are The Girls. We are funny. We are sad. We are serious. We are hilarious. We talk of parenting challenges and how to deal with our own parents as the seasons and roles begin to change. We wonder why relationships go bad, and vent imaginatively about how they could be right-sized (or at least avenged). We wonder for a moment, just how fantastic it would be if we all worked for the same organization. We laugh at our own behavior, the outcome of our own expectations, and The People of Wal-Mart.

It is a safe place. Full of grace, and wisdom, and love. Around the table we are all together different, and yet all together the same. Gleeful in our imperfections. Grounded in our faith. Grateful to have found each other in the midst of our journeys. A thought as we finally wind down and get ready to head home as the stars come out to play: it's good to have girls.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

walking alone on the shore at dusk

I walked, then once, upon the shore
at water's edge without a care, nor
errant thought to cloud my mind.

So pleasant there, I sought to find
the company of kindred souls
some sacred partners - hearts like coals -
that burned with passion and a need
to twine together; yearn to feed
a growing, deepening  hallowed trust;
discarding thoughts of shallow lust
for worldly pleasures - all foresworn;
we'd miss them not, and never mourn
the fallacy of what had been
but turn instead to what's within.

Then find, I did those kindred hearts
the ones that take your many parts
and simply make them whole again; 
forgetting easily what's been
a checkered past with no success -
of finding hope and finding rest.

And for a moment we did walk
together and have time to talk
of dreams and places we would go
sweet fellowship; so good to know
that others held so like a mind
(the rarest gift, you'll never find)
And hope was birthed anew once more
as wandered we, upon the shore.

But times were hard and shadows fell;
where once was light was now a well
of darkness rife with grief and loss
- no penitent could pay that cost -
and hearts were shattered without thought
no chance for restitution brought.

So echoes now, on lonely sand
a wrenching want and sharp demand
for what has been and now has left
an aching loss of closeness cleft. 

I walk alone upon the shore -
'twas first with three, but now, no more.

Monday, July 11, 2011

at the end of the day

I am not your friend.
I am not your lover.
I am not a theme-park medium behind a crystal shard.
I am not even
the parking lot attendant taking your last bit of change.

I am the space at the edge of the road
where the sidewalk ends
and the grass begins;
where you throw yourself down
after changing a flat tire -
and all the frustration of
and loose nuts and bolts,
and spilled coffee
late papers -
run draining out of you
like poison
onto this gravelly inch of land
which absorbs your pain
like a parched sponge.

fingers blackened with grease and gas -
the closest you'll ever get
to the glittering lights of Dubai -
streak across your once crisp
white shirt
(no more)
striped now with red
as the slice in your finger
wells up.

drips down
mingles with your pain
in the sponge of the land
that you drive by on a daily basis
and never
not once
give a second glance at.

glance now -
as your temple throbs
eyes pulse
see dark flecks of asphalt
(who's fault?)
glass shards;
telltale signs of
another tragedy
far worse than your
misaligned tire.

exhaust fumes.
cars surge.
everyone fighting to get
to the end of the day;
leave that wicked mess
for another one
(another someone)
trying to get to
(another someone)
a better place
where something beside
dirt and ash
cradles you

arms like silk
are a dream not realized.
closest thing you're going to find
is the stained
microfiber of your couch:
buried and musty beneath
last week's laundry
and last night's dinner in a box.

who needs that?
take a moment;
throw the tire iron
over the edge
and just breathe.

This is one that just popped up out of almost nowhere. I thought I was trying to write something for an online poetry competition, but not so much this time. But the imagery and the flow that emerged here, just really make me happy.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

The Color of Seven

In the beginning, it was white. All white. I suppose that seems a little obvious, doesn't it? But it wasn't to me. It was supposed to be blue, blue, all over the place blue. For years. Even before we got pregnant - we made a deal: boy or girl, we like blue. We'd stocked up for years on all kinds of blue things. Boy blue. Girl blue. And everything in between. The predictable baby blue. Sky blue. Deep, rich cobalt blue like the glasses in my mother's kitchen windows. Powder blue. Kingfisher blue like a decadent streak spotted on an afternoon's walk. But in the end; in the beginning; it was white. White onesies, white bubbles, white diapers, white blankets, white bows. All on this little white bundle that we'd waited - what seemed like forever - to say hello to.

But let me pause; back up, and tell you that one way or another - even if marginally - I am an artist. Not in a Georgia O'Keefe, Jackson Pollock kind of way. Not even like my uncle Rick who's gracefully dripping sea life watercolors grace galleries and aquariums around the world. My art is in my words. In the still life arrangements I inevitably create on my shelves. And my art is in my revelry with color. For as long as I can remember - except for perhaps a short, dark, brief-stinted love affair with being Goth - I have lived my life out loud in color. I've had color wheels since I was three or four, inhaled my color theory art classes in college, and delighted in the discovery of the pantone matching system book - oddly named, "the PMS book" by designers in the field.

For me, color can convey, classify, and capture moments - sometimes as well as words. When I see burgundy, I'm immediately transported back in time to my senior prom and can feel fourteen yards of slippery satin twirling around me on the dance floor. The right shade of cerulean blue takes me back to my favorite beach at home - the one that most tourists can't get to - with fine sand like dusting sugar and trade winds that cool even the hottest August afternoon.

In the same way, color has become a defining characteristic when thinking of my daughter's life. I will give you seven years. Seven memories. Seven Colors.

I've told you that the beginning was white. Pure, clean, beautiful white. After that, I feel like I'm flying all the way to the other end of the prism with One being red. The red of twice-kissed lips. The red of excitement and emergencies. The red of ladybugs. Because of all the nicknames my daughter Bella has, "ladybug" has been the easiest one to translate into dress. I don't know if I can tell you how many ladybug outfits I discovered for her in the first year of her life. Ladybugs on dresses, ladybugs on pants, ladybugs on shoes. These sweet little redbugs were even the mascot of my mother's high school back in Fordyce, Arkansas, so you might imagine how many of her old friends and acquaintances made sure we were stocked up on redbug note pads. We celebrated that first year with, of course, a ladybug themed party complete with red-spotted cake, red balloons, and red roses.

With white plus red, the natural result is pink. And pink is truly what year two was. With a year of experience under our belts, it was a tad less dramatic than the red of year one, but still with more color that the beginning purity of white. In our pink year, we had a solo Easter Egg hunt. We were still recently moved back home to Washington; no church connection yet; no radar out for community events. So that Easter, Bella, dressed in sweet pink sweats and hoodie, got to find all the eggs in our yard. I can still remember the cold, crispness of that spring morning; watching her hold the still-too-big basket; walking from end to end of our front yard; trying to find these pastel little eggs - that seemed shout out at us from their hiding places. Of course, she found them all, and her delight as she found each one - squealing as though they were the most wonderful treasures - is a truly sweet memory.

At three, I was overwhelmed with such warmth and joy from my little girl; it felt like the sun was out all the time. With glowing highlights in her hair and a smile that could melt me like butter, we were surely in a golden yellow time. Those highlights of hers stand out to me in memory so clearly. I was happy to see actual evidence of my recessive gene in action and hoped that this meant Bella's green eyes would stick around as well. For some odd reason, the one piece of seventh grade biology that stuck with me like a glimmer of light in the attic after all these years, was the chart we drew with the big B and the little b to show how dominant and recessive genes were distributed. I often amused Bella by telling her all the different names of the colors I saw in her hair: honey, strawberry, pecan, marmalade, and butterscotch.

At four, my honey-haired child was off to her first taste of the learning in the Blue Class at our local Cooperative Preschool. Introducing her to education was like standing on the edge of the ocean; looking out into its vast azure expanse, and launching our daughter off towards the horizon where sky meets sea. It's an amazing thing - watching a child learn. When everything is new and fresh and waiting to be discovered. Being a co-op preschool, parents were asked to be present to help the teacher - and what a wonderful thing to be hands-on as your child uncovers something new each day. I can still remember the look on her face when she sank her fingers into the bean bin - literally: a sandbox filled with every kind of dried bean imaginable. Standing there, pushing through the smooth, sliding orbs; feeling them cascade through her fingers, she looked up with delight and quickly grabbed my hand so I could run my fingers through the silky streams of dried beans.

Five and Six go together in my mind - these are the years Bella began her own garden. They are absolutely green and orange. Gardening, as I've talked about here, is a real passion of mine. I love putting seeds and starts into the ground and caring for them until they turn into something good to eat. That passion is mutually shared with Bella who picks out, waters, and tends to her own little 6 foot by 3 foot patch of happiness each summer. With tomatoes, radishes, green onions, and carrots, I have quite the little gardener on my hands. There is nothing as priceless, though, as those early times in the beginning of the gardening rush when she would pull out the vegetables - particularly the carrots - to "check and see if they were ready yet." It used to drive me crazy, but after a while, looking at those little teeny bits of carrot at the end of those frothy, feathery tops, all I could do was laugh out loud together with her - and enjoy a small yummy bite.
My Lovely Bella Girl

I cannot believe that eleven days ago, my little bit of rainbow girl turned seven. Seven is a drink. It is a movie. It is a prime number. Seven is purple. Seven is probably seven shades of purple if I start to think about it. It is the stormy aubergine of a growing girl exploring every end of her seven year old emotions. It is the pensive violet of daydreams and as she discovers her love of writing and storytelling. It is the soft lilac of tulle and satin as she continues her love affair with ballet. Seven is the twinkling amethyst of unicorns and magic. It is the softness of wisteria on our front porch - the backdrop for so many photos my child who's growing with Amazonian speed. And it is the regal purple of royalty as she works to exert and define her role in our family.

The color of seven is for me, a rich amalgam of bright and shadow, light and dark - a liquid fountain of hues and tints running in and about our lives. The colors I see characterize happiness, work, sadness, and delight. But most of all, they are the color of a life well lived, and of more life yet to come.

Friday, June 24, 2011


That Joy in existence without which the universe would fall apart and collapse

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

in the end

there is a loss that pulls at the heart -

an echoing of memories not made;
commonalities never to be discovered;
paths that will no longer be crossed.

it is a slow death -
the final breath of a candle's flame:
shimmering in a moment from light to dark,
till nothing remains but ash and smoke.
the lingering is the worst.
an empty pain of the might-have-been;
hands pressed against glass
looking within - ever without.

ties that bind are severed by
ragged edges of promises not kept.
in the end, only
vestiges of brilliance within the darkening shadows
If of all thy mortal goods thou are bereft,
And from thy slender store two loaves alone to thee are left,
Sell one, and with the dole, buy hyacinths to feed the soul.
- Muslih-uddin Sadi

A favorite quote, shared with me by my Mom - who knows a good thing when she sees one.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Women who Run with (Were)Wolves

It's no real secret in my circle of friends that I'm the SciFi/Fantasy/Geek girl. Notice I'm not giving in and spelling it the way one of my favorite channels did when they underwent their re-branding efforts (trust me folks, super spiffy spelling is not going to broaden your audience). I'm not as hard core as some people, but I know what a Bantha is, I can slice and dice the various mythologies of pop culture vampires, and I still carry a torch for Spock. Both of them now that Zachary Quinto has taken up the mantle. I didn't realize how deep the association between me and the mythical, mystical madness had become until I heard a couple of my girlfriends refer to the upcoming movie Sucker Punch as, "you know, R's movie."

While many of the women I know have fallen hard for the Twilight series (and True Blood, and a myriad of other hip vampire stories), their interest seems to go as far the story lines and the sexy stars who play them, but stops there. I get that - I like those stories and characters too, but my passion extends to more than the current rage of vampires.

Dark Phoenix
Of course, there are the vampires. I am a huge fan of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and its spinoff, Angel, but mainly because I'm a huge fan of Joss Whedon - the genius who created those worlds, plus Firefly & Serenity, and Dollhouse. The language, the story arcs, the anti-heroes - I could go on and on, but this isn't about Joss, this is about me. Tolkien (print & screen) is another favorite. Asked once which character I would be in his works, it wasn't the luminous Arwen or the fiercely brave Eowyn who I aspired to be, but Aragorn - preferably when he was known only as Strider - who captured everything I wanted to be. Both Marvel and DC Comics house characters I love to love. Yeah, DC is a little older, and maybe a little darker, but as far as I'm concerned, there's no competing with Marvel's X-Men. Clarify - there's no competing with the Phoenix (even when she's dark). After we were together for a while, my husband and I combined our comic collection (oh, foolish, foolish flies), and to this day still argue over who actually owns the various issues. Especially the unopened ones. Yes. I do that. And for the record, the Wolverine ones are mine.

Currently (as in, "since I discovered Facebook"), I'm involved with an online fantasy RPG (role playing game)  called Castle Age. There are heroes, generals, quests to complete, dragons (and other beasties) to slay, armies to build, arenas to fight in. It's been called, "extremely deep and complex," and was rated "one of the top ten most significant social games" of 2010. It is the reason I have over 450 friends on Facebook. Which leads me to the point I started to write about when I first sat down.

Sometimes I feel absolutely alone as the SciFi/Fantasy/Geek girl amongst my friends.

Because none of the women in my real life circle find this stuff even remotely interesting. I teasingly ask them to come see Thor on opening weekend with me - knowing full well that we're going to wind up seeing the latest cute chick flick. I try to explain the appeal of building an online army to slay the next beast and get halfhearted smiles (which I truly appreciate, by the way - hey - they're trying for me). Even my mom, who loves all aspects of me - good, bad, and weird - sent me a sympathy card (yes; the kind you send when someone dies) when she found out I was going to see Interview with a Vampire all those years ago.

An image I love for my CA character, Lady Talon
Funny thing though … since I discovered Castle Age (thank you Facebook!), that "alone" feeling doesn't pop up as much. As mentioned, at least half of my online "friends" are there to help build my army (Army, Guilds, Orders - it goes on and on), and you have no idea how amazing it is to find all kind of women from all over the world who are as passionate (if not more so), about Castle Age and the whole SciFi thing as I am. KW from Ohio is one of the most organized that I've met. She's tough, she's consistent, and if you're on a monster with her, you know two things: the party health is staying up, and that monster is going down. AMS from Italy has a powerful build (and no, that does not mean physical) and consistently returns hits and leaves hearts on my wall. VR from Alaska always has my back; AH from South Carolina sends great "gifts;" and TH - who I think is from Australia (maybe England?) - always has the best advice linked to her wall.

No, these are not my BFFs. We don't go out for coffee. We're not in a book club together. But we do wind up chatting about our real lives from time to time. And we do have a strong connection in common. Yes, we all probably all spend way too much time on our computers; on Facebook; on Castle Age, but more than that, we are the women who run with (were)wolves and other beasties of the SciFi world. We run with them. And we slay them. And we're pretty damn good at what we do.

A note about the whole [Part 1] thing. I'm not entirely sure that I'm writing anything else about this, but then again, I'm not entirely sure that I'm not. I like to leave my options open 

A later update. Well, the blog has taken a new direction, and while this was fun to write, it doesn't really fit with my current theme, so it seems like this will be it. For now. Thanks so much!

Thursday, June 16, 2011

The price of anything is the amount of life you exchange for it.
- Henry David Thoreau

I just really, really, really like this quote and need to keep it in front of me to remind me about why I make certain choices and why I deliberately do not do certain things.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

State of the Union: Notes from the Second Time Around

I suppose if I'm going to talk about this union, I have to talk about the one that came before. And all the ridiculousness that led up to it. Starting somewhere around age eighteen, I had a total of six marriage proposals. This used to impress the heck out of my friends. It didn’t do much for me. I didn't find myself until I was about twenty-seven or twenty-eight, so in the beginning, I floated along with my engagements like I floated along with most other things in my life. Number five finally stuck - the former best friend of number four. I actually married that one, and thought it was IT. We had THE BIG WEDDING with THE BIG DRESS and THE BIG WEDDING PARTY and THE BIG CAKE and all that hoo hah.

In the end, the big IT turned out to be a big disaster of epic proportions, and I left the union with enough disillusion about men, marriage, and monogamy to sink whatever hopes might have survived another story. I went through the cycles of grief, Maslow's hierarchy of needs, and at least three Borders-sized shelves of self-help books. And then just when I was finding my balance and setting my course again, he showed up.

Of course he would. He had no idea I was determined to be uninterested or unavailable. He just showed up. And that was the beginning. There were so many "I will not's" that I broke without thinking about it. I will not date anyone from work. I will not date anyone younger than me. I will not date blondes (don't even ask). But I did. I did a lot of other things too. And before I knew it, there was another toothbrush in my bathroom and a man to deal with again.

I was, of course, skeptical, critical, and pessimistic about any long-term results. I made that clear right from the get-go. This relationship was going to be about fun, hanging out, movies, and nothing more. Before our first date, I explained in detail about the big disaster and why I would never have another long-term relationship. He took it in stride, although he has since told me that he wasn't really listening, because as far as he was concerned, I was the big IT for him. I'm really glad I didn’t know that then.

This relationship is, as far as I'm concerned, one of the most amazing things on the planet - excluding long-distance phone calls, post-it notes, and instant messaging. It is perfect. And before you gag and fall off your ergonomically balanced chair, understand that I'm not talking about perfect in the sense of Barbie's Cinderella land. Perfect in the sense that I found the elusive thing called a soul mate. Best friend. Life companion. Whatever. I have found the right other half of me that fits in a Jerry-Maguire-way-too-famous-line kind of way. I love him to death and he makes me crazier than anyone I know. No one I know can lose time like him. No one can make excuses like him. And no one else has ever cleaned the bathroom with my toothbrush and then put it back in the holder. But on the flip side, no one else I know can make me laugh like he does. No one listens with such impressive objectivity. No one else has the patience it takes to be with me. And no one - not even my parents - loves me like he does.

We have survived battles with parents, custody wars, unemployment, and near death. We have been stretched and pulled and pressed in more directions than I care to think about. And through it all, though we have yelled and glared and sat in stony silence, we have stayed together. And we are stronger for it.

In the beginning, I would have told you that love is enough. Period. After that, I would have told you that not even love is enough. Period. Now, I can tell you that love - when love is a verb hitchhiking around with a thesaurus that includes words like passion, commitment, communication, determination, laughter, and a bunch of other good ones - is truly enough. Period. At least in our union.

Notes from the continuing journey: There is no date on my original manuscript, which I only have in hard copy (and lose from time to time, much to my anguish and chagrin). I think I remember writing this sometime before we started trying to have a baby - so pre-2004. I think I remember the job I was at when I wrote this, so between 2000 and 2004. I love this piece, because it captures everything I felt and continue to feel in a timeless way. Everything in our lives has changed since I wrote this. We moved (three times in eighteen months), have an amazing little girl now, have had good jobs, bad jobs, and are gainfully unemployed again. We don't yell and glare as much, although we still do that too. But we're still together and still moving forward (however slowly). And I still think our relationship is perfect in the most frighteningly imperfect way. It's still true that he makes me crazier than anyone I know, but just as true (if not more so), that I am an impossible person to be in a relationship with and maintain one's sanity - I have no idea how he does it.  We have truly walked a hard path in this relationship - lots of craziness coming in from all sides.

If you take nothing else away from reading this, know that marriage is hard work. Really hard work. Probably the hardest work you will ever do. Even more so than parenting, I think, because your kids are from you, part of you, and you love them. No matter what. Parents are just wired that way. Your marriage partner, well, you chose that one, and you have to continue to choose them every single day. Did you hear that? Every. Single. Day. There will be times when "you've lost that loving feeling," and you think it's never going to come back. It does. It might change and grow, but it comes back. And inevitably, it comes back stronger. So, hard work. But also know that this will be the best, richest, truest love you will know here on earth. There is nothing like being married to your best friend. Don't quit. Don't give up. Nothing in the world comes close. Period.

Oh, and just in case you're wondering, this union celebrates seventeen years this year.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

My life with Madeleine L'Engle

I can't tell you exactly when I was introduced to the books of Madeline L'Engle, but I do know that it was sometime as a child by my mother - most likely over a cup of tea. The first was A Dance in the Desert - published the year I was born. It tells the story of a young family crossing the desert and the animals they encounter along the way. As a little girl, I listened with wide eyes and was entranced by the illustrations and enchanted by the idea of creatures like lions, eagles, dragons, and unicorns - seemingly predatory at first - coming to dance and interact with the family's young son. It wasn't until later in my life when I re-read the book (after many other readings), I realized the family in the book was the holy family fleeing into Egypt.

In late elementary school, I read - well, devoured, A Wrinkle in Time. It had the perfect combination of reality: Meg, the un-heroine with a one-sided brilliant mind and a temper like a tempest. Calvin: her unexpected hero with a troubled home. Charles Wallace: her genius little brother with a penchant for liverwurst sandwiches. And fantasy with the Mrs Whatsit, Who, and Which: mystical magical creatures who could tesser through time. The sequels, A Wind in the Door and A Swiftly Tilting Planet followed, and were the perfect antidote or accompaniment (depending on the day) for the ups and downs of Junior High and High School.

Those early books were an introduction to the realm of what is now genre-titled "fantasy and science fiction;" a niche of literature, television, and film I love to this day. But had you asked Madeline L'Engle is she were a fantasy fiction writer, I believe she would have laughed. She once said in her acceptance speech upon receiving the Margaret Edwards Award from the American Library Association that, " We live in a fantastic universe, and subatomic particles and quantum mechanics are even more fantastic than the macrocosm. Often the only way to look clearly at this extraordinary universe is through fantasy, fairy tale, and myth." Madeline L'Engle's ability to transcend genres and to break down walls between what many looked to as "normal," both in literature and in how she lived her life, encouraged me to constantly look outside the lines that were frequently drawn around me to discover the extraordinary in my own world.

I often jokingly say that I've been writing, "since birth." Not likely, but my parents seem to support the idea that this might have been possible. Writing has been my passion for as long as I can remember, and a vehicle not only for communication, but for that discovery of the extraordinary. Sometimes the extraordinary is a poem that comes to me with a whisper and a thought. Sometimes the extraordinary is being able to capture an event in the memory of my journal. And sometimes the extraordinary is just being able to put into words truly and simply my feelings for someone I care for.

And it isn't just my personal writing where Madeline L'Engle has left her mark. As a communications professional, I'm constantly striving to make connections for people: whether it be to a product, to other colleagues, or to their customers, and one of the best ways I've found to do that is through the story. Stories make things personal. They give the audience a reason to be invested in the idea. They make things matter. And no one taught me more about the story than Madeline L'Engle. Whether it's an admonition to keep the story moving, encouragement to stop and read what I've written aloud to make sure that it sounds authentic, or a lesson on writing my way into a story. Thankfully, many of her lectures and classes have been captured and excerpted in pages of a book called, Madeline L'Engle Herself. I keep her words with me on the shelves at work and at home as my own North Star.

Madeline L'Engle was a woman of faith, a woman of fantasy, a woman of mystery, a woman of strength. She has shown me through her words and through her writing that it is possible to have a deep spiritual faith and still be open to the mystical ideas of the universe and of the imagination. By reading her candid autobiographical trilogy, I have been encouraged to consider the road not taken - or at least to mind a little less if I took that path with fewer companions. Through her reflections on a writing life, I am gifted with gems of wisdom that hone and improve my writing and my ability to share a story with an audience. I will always be grateful to my mother for making this introduction and ever grateful to Madeline L'Engle herself for never giving up, but honoring her gift that has gifted me.

Begin at the beginning

For as long as my husband and I have been together, we have named our cars. My first "real" car (e.g. one that was younger and shinier than I was) was christened with the odd name "three bees in a blue bonnet" or "Buzz" for short. Odd because, well, who gives their car a weird moniker that's more like a pioneer woman's annoying afternoon than a name. Odd, because we immediately called him Buzz.

But when we bought this little bit of a car, there were three bees stuck in the reverse light in the back window. And we were constantly arguing over the color - blue or green (remember that hybrid from Ford that was popular in the 90s?). I voted for blue. It was my car. It was a blue bonnet. And that was Buzz. I haven't had Buzz in years, but it seemed like a fun, quirky name for an attempt at a blog. And there are so many fun offshoots I can play with: buzz words. buzz worthy. buzz bites. buzz off. I could go on and on. And I will eventually. But I'm just getting started. Welcome to Three Bees in a Blue Bonnet.

I hope I'll be Buzz Worthy.