Sunday, May 31, 2009

Train up a child in the way he should go...

I have had an AWESOME day. To be honest, I was worried. We are coming in to graduation week, and Tuxedo Boy has been particularly difficult. My mother says that this is a natural process that ensures that parents will let their children leave home…if they were not so irritating as seniors, we might hold on to them forever. I used to have the kids believing that they should live with me until they are 47. But we have been having the typical struggles with a child of this age, and the poor kid has had to listen to us lecture more than once in the last week.

Today was Seminary Sunday at church. All of the Seminary students and teachers were asked to talk. In our branch, that was three kids and two teachers. Because our branch covers a wide swath of land, we have two separate classes for the kids that live on opposite ends of the boundaries. At our end, Tuxedo Boy was the only student in his class for three years, until he was joined by my Musician son this year as a freshman.

For three years, Tuxedo Boy would get up at the crack of dawn – or before – and go to the church for Seminary. Every day, his teacher would get up and prepare a lesson for him. And every day, a priesthood member would have to join them at the church, as there needs to be more than two and at least one priesthood holder. I was always so impressed that not one, but two volunteers would arrive to teach one boy! It was quite humbling to see the service being offered. This year, because Tuxedo Boy was 17 and his brother was joining the class, they were able to meet just with their teacher.

It was a tremendous sacrifice for Tuxedo Boy. He loves to sleep in. He is a night owl, and getting up early is really and truly not easy for him. Thank heaven for his teacher, who was absolutely and unequivocally chosen by God to teach him. She was the most perfect personality for him; with a scathing wit, a respectful irreverence, and not shocked by anything that he said to her. He could joke and laugh and be sarcastic, and she would play along and make it part of the discussion. She is also highly conservative politically, and could have intelligent conversations with him on any current topic. Without her guidance and dedication, it would have been difficult for him to have accomplished four years of Seminary.

She knows the value of teaching, even if it is only one student. When she joined the church many years ago, her son was the only Valiant in his class. His teacher didn’t see the importance of preparing a lesson or even showing up for one student. That student is no longer active in the church. What a difference it might have made if that teacher had made the effort! I know in this case, the teacher making the effort for this one young man – my son – has made a world of difference. They have a very good relationship, and she has had a great impact on his life. When she recently needed a priesthood blessing, she asked him to assist her husband. It was very sweet and indicative of how they feel about one another. She is an angel that has brought him through the early morning refinery of Seminary, and she will always have my deepest and most heartfelt gratitude.

So today was Seminary Sunday, and both of my boys were to speak. I kept hounding them and hounding them to get their talks done, but like most teenagers, they procrastinated. I was worried.

The Musician spoke first, and his talk was very nice. It was a youth talk, to be sure, but he actually presented some good points. Tuxedo Boy spoke next. What came forth out of that child, I can only say made my mouth drop. He spoke with depth and maturity. He made jokes, he was serious. It was a beautiful thing.

He spoke of how worried he was about beginning Seminary. It was early and the teacher was just that scary lady that played piano in Relief Society. He talked about how he found out that she was not so scary after all. He talked about falling asleep in class, waking to find that the room was dark and his teacher had gone downstairs. He told about the brother that brought him sour candies and soda to keep him awake.

But he also talked about learning about the scriptures, and how it had impacted his life. How he found that he really knew nothing, but that the lessons in the scriptures had helped him to make good decisions in his life. About how he might be in another place entirely without that daily scripture study. He talked of wanting to study the scriptures, and how Seminary had given him that chance.

He is a religion scholar on his own. He has read not only the four standard works (not so much the D&C, which is not his favorite!), but the Koran and other religious texts, as well. He reads all of the time. It falls into his other interests, which are history, war, government, economics, and politics. They are all related and affect one another in many ways. If I want to know anything about anything, I usually go to him. But to hear him talk of the spiritual side of the scriptures, and the gratitude that he has for them…priceless. I was walking on air by the time he finished speaking.

He followed this up by being one of the speakers at the Stake Seminary Graduation. He began his talk with my favorite scripture as a mother, Proverbs 22:6 “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old, he will not depart from it.” From this scripture has come many a discussion with my boys, who needed to understand that sometimes I made them do things that were hard or not so fun, because it was preparing them for the future. That I was doing the best that I could, knowing my responsibility to raise them in a righteous manner. My responsibility to God for their training and care. It meant a lot to me that he began his talk with this scripture.

To which he added his own favorite scripture, Proverbs 21:19 “It is better to dwell in the wilderness, than with a contentious and an angry woman.” Was that aimed at me??!! He got some good laughs with that one.

His talk was much like the earlier one, but perhaps with a bit more seriousness. He pointed out that his generation is facing a darker, more menacing world, and how they needed this spiritual training to survive.

I was so proud of him. For speaking in public. For his insight. For his maturity. For listening even when I was sure that he wasn’t hearing anything that we taught. For respecting his priesthood. For just being himself.

I saw a glimpse of the other side of this crazy rocky time that we call the teen years. I saw the man that my son would become. And I liked it.

Congratulations, my baby. For four years of sacrifice, to learn the things that you will need to know as you go out into the dark, menacing world, and emerge unscathed. You are a fine example of strength and character, and I know that you will be able to face any challenge if you wear the full armor of God. I’m proud of you, and I love you and admire you. Today, I saw that I will always be learning from you, and learning about you. What an incredible blessing it has been for me to be your mother in this life.

Today was AWESOME!

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Fighting over the

Once upon a time, there were two houses facing one another across a narrow canal. Each house contained it’s own family. Each family had their own idea of how life should be lived on this little canal. Sadly, the two ways of life were disparate in many ways.

The West side family disliked the wildlife that came to visit, leaving nuggets on the sweet grass. The East side family loved the wildlife, and would encourage them to visit by offering tender pieces of bread. The Wests shook their heads in disgust as the Easts lined the grandchildren up on the bank, bags of bread at their sides. They shouted across the canal, imploring the East side family to close the animal buffet. The Easts smiled and kept throwing crumbs upon the ground.

“Cease and desist!” The Wests shook their fists and cursed into the sky. “You feed these geese and they come right into our yard to rid themselves of the waste!”

“But our grandchildren love it!” The Easts explained. “This is why we chose to live here…it is a natural setting and so peaceful!”

Peaceful, that is, except for the waves of animosity washing across the canal.

“We’re going to complain about you to the city government!” The West side family shouted.

“There are no ordinances about feeding the geese,” the Easts stated.

“Honk, honk,” agreed the geese, who had just gorged themselves and were prone to siding with the hands that had fed them.

And so on it went, day after day. The Wests did call the city, who said that it was not something that they could mediate. The Easts, in deference to the Wests, only fed the geese when the grandchildren were visiting, but that still displeased their angry neighbors.

So the Wests came up with a diabolical plan. They had just the thing to teach those evil Easts a lesson. They planned. They plotted. They prepared. Finally the day came for their revenge.

When the sun rose that morning, the Easts were greeted with a lovely mural, painted prominently on the side of the Wests’ house that faced their own. It was garish, to be sure. It was embellished with cartoon characters. But it was art, nonetheless.

And the Easts were shamed. Very, very shamed. They had brought this terrible curse upon themselves, you see. Never again would they be able to look out across the canal without having to view this hideous art project.

The impact of this warfare was profound. Neighbors gawked and laughed at the brightly colored house. Word spread. Soon, folks were driving by just to catch a glimpse. But did it stop the Easts from spreading their vile bread crumbs? No, it did not.

The moral of the story? You can freak out at the neighbors all you want, but in the end, you still have poop in your yard, and your home has become an eyesore. Isn’t the joke on you? Scoop a little poop and count yourself lucky that the neighbors are feeding and caring for living beings, and not boiling your cat. Look at the bright side, and don’t sweat the small stuff.

(True story, btw, picture posted as proof. My kids used to call it the Mental Institution, because surely crazy people must live there!)

Friday, May 29, 2009

Hometown Heroes

This photo was taken on the 15th of September, 2001. My dad, a Captain in the fire department of our city, was at the main intersection working the “Boot Drive”, where the firemen were collecting money to send to the families of the fallen in the World Trade Centers. They had the ladder truck set up, a flag flying on top, and a this large flag across the side of the ambulance. It was really touching to see them holding out the boots to passing cars, and to see the passengers fill those boots with change and dollars by the fistful.

I wanted to follow up on my thoughts for Memorial Day. I know that the holiday is intended to celebrate those who have given their lives (and I say literally as well as figuratively!) in the service of their country. But they are not the only heroes that we need to celebrate. You don’t need to wear a patch on your arm to have honor. (Name that movie quote!)

There are plenty of other folks that serve every day for our country. We spoke of them on the National Day of Prayer, and I was so touched that the pastor remembered them in his prayer. Fireman, policemen, dispatchers, utility workers…the list goes on and on.

We live on a spit of sand that is surrounded on three sides by water. One side is the Pacific Ocean. We also live in a subduction zone, which means that at any moment, the tectonic plates that are always grinding against one another as one plunges beneath the other may slip…and we are in for the so-called BIG ONE. We live with the threat of tsunami every day. Even if the earthquake is far from here, we could experience a wave that would inundate our city, which is only 12 ft at it’s highest point.

When I was a young adult, we had our first tsunami warning. It was from an earthquake far out in the ocean, but was considered serious enough to evacuate the city. Dad called Mom to tell her to take us and leave. We had about five hours warning, so we were able to load the car with what was most valuable to us, as well as some supplies, before leaving. We had to leave Dad behind. As a city fireman, he was expected to stay in the city to evacuate any housebound residents or those in need of medical attention. They would be the last to leave the city. Thankfully, it was a false alarm, and the wave was only 1 ft tall when it came ashore.

A fireman’s family sacrifices every day without really knowing. We grew up in the Fire Department, so we didn’t know that it wasn’t normal to have your dad jump up from dinner and go rushing out without eating. Or to be awakened by the sound of the tones that call the fireman out in the middle of the night, and hear his truck roar down the road. To have him miss school functions and special events because he was unable to leave the station. To never celebrate the Fourth of July with a big family evening, because he was always out fighting fires set by other celebrants. To have him gone for 24 hours at a time while he was on duty.

We opened gifts on Christmas morning before the roosters, because Dad was on duty that day and had to be done by 8AM. We opened gifts late Christmas morning because Dad was coming off duty and stayed a bit later so that another fireman could have a nice morning with his family.

We were lectured about doing crazy stupid teenage things, because my mother would never forgive us if my father had to scrape us up off of the pavement because we had been disobedient. We often got lectures about what someone else had done wrong, and that Dad had to work on in the ambulance.

Ironically, we did scare Dad a couple of times on that account. Not through our own stupidity…we were far too scared to do THAT. I was dating a volunteer firefighter when I was in high school, and we were coming home from a dance at the school. Just ahead of us, a car had driven off of the road and flipped on the rocks below. We stopped to help.

I was smart enough to call my mother and tell her that I was AT the accident, but not IN the accident. We forgot to have the station tell my dad that, as he raced to the scene in the ambulance. He arrived and found my date with his jacket off, shirt untucked, hair whipped wildly by the wind, pointing paramedics towards victims lying on the rocks.

Dad took a deep breath and stopped him to ask where I was. I’m sure that he was relieved to find out that I was comforting the ones that had crawled back up on the slope on their own.

A few years later, my brother was riding in a small Volkswagon Rabbit with 6 other kids. No, they were not all seat belted! In fact, my brother and another girl were laying across the laps of the three passengers in the back. When they came face to face with a truck coming around a curve, my bro took one look and passed out. He didn’t even remember the impact. He broke the arm of the other girl laying across the laps, as she put her arm out to stop him from flying through the windshield.

Once again, my dad was on the call. He was irritated when the ambulance pulled up to the scene and the high school principal stood in front of his door and began to brief him on the accident. He wanted nothing more than to get to the kids and start assessing their needs. It wasn’t until Dad’s partner returned and told him that his son was in the accident, but unhurt, that the principal moved.

Because the fire department shared a lobby with the police department, the firemen knew a great deal about what was going on in town and who was or was not a ‘bad guy’. Dad always threatened to run a check on any boy that I dated! He scared a lot of them.

One night, a young man and I were saying good night at the door. (For a long time, I’ll admit.) Apparently, the tones had been called out, and the next thing that we know, the door flew open and we jumped apart. Dad barked, “You are gonna have to move your car!” and that boy jumped. He was so freaked out that he turned the wrong way at the end of our road, trying to get away from Dad!

We also had some really wonderful experiences, though, while our Dad served the city and the residents there. One Christmas Eve, a man had a heart attack and was taken to the hospital. Because he had four children at home, the firemen and their families jumped to help the children celebrate the day anyway. They found funds to go shopping for gifts, food, and a tree (which had yet to be purchased by the destitute family), then arranged with local merchants to open their doors for a special shopping excursion. I was a teen at the time, and I babysat the firemen’s children as they did this good deed. We all had a wonderful Christmas!

We often read our father’s name in the paper, when they saved lives. We grew up as a part of a close knit family of brothers in arms. We were proud of what our fathers – or mothers – were doing, and were happy to do what we could to facilitate their service. The fire families stood by one another, socialized, and came together in crisis. When storms would tear apart roofs, knock out the power, and topple trees, we would all gather at the fire station. It was warm and dry there, with the generators going. We could play and talk together. Meanwhile, our firemen would don their gear and go out into the storm to do what they could to comfort – tarping a roof, boarding a broken window, helping the bedridden get to warm surroundings.

During a storm last winter, our firemen were asked to stay at the station for days on end, as the power was out and the city had been isolated by fallen trees. There were literally no routes out of town. We are a small city, and that meant that access to the local hospital was also blocked. Dad was worried about any major health concerns, as they would have to deal with them locally until the roads were clear.

I know first hand the compassion that these men and women have. Having taken two trips in the ambulance myself, I have been a recipient of their kind and reassuring touch. My first trip was for an ovarian cyst that had me in so much pain that I could hardly speak. After four tries at painkillers, they finally had me comfortable and able to transport. The paramedic laughed as we pulled out of town, saying, ‘What a great job…getting the boss’ daughter stoned!’

The second trip was much further, as they transported me to the University Hospital 3 hours away. I was 32 weeks pregnant with the baby, and my water had broken. They had no idea if I would deliver on the trip, or if they would have complications with the baby…it was a little scary for all of us. My dad got to ride with me, though, and that made it much easier. He joked and laughed with me, inviting the nurse and paramedic to join in, and soon, I was laughing and relaxed.

My poor dad also has to put up with his grandchildren running to him with every bump, bruise, ache, or rash, and asking him what it is. Many a night, we have had to run to Dr. Poppa to show him something!

He has seen macabre accidents, murders, and sudden death. He has walked into fires that would singe your eyebrows. He has given his life to be of service to his fellow men. I know that the same can be said of those who are in law enforcement, medical personnel, and emergency staff. The utility crews who brave the weather to restore power so that we can watch TV…which seems to be the thing that folks miss most when the power is out. (so that they can see the news coverage of the storm – pretty funny!)

Take a moment to thank a hometown hero for all that they do to keep us safe at home!

"Aziz! Light!"

“The Fifth Element” fans will recognize that line, as it appears at the very beginning of the movie. The priest is trying to read something in a cave, and needs his assistant to hold the torch so that he may see. The assistant keeps moving away, for various reasons, and the priest will yell, “Aziz! Light!” Each subsequent yell gets a little more gruff and desperate.

I identify with that priest. I am definitely a light lover. I need it, much like a flower needs the light of the sun. When we had a power outage that lasted for a week, I found that I simply could not function in the evenings because we didn’t have the supply of light that I was used to. We finally found that by shining one of the lamps that we had hooked up to the generator into the corner of the room, we could bounce enough light off of the white walls to satisfy my needs and keep me from freaking out.

We used to live in a house that had narrow windows, dark paneling, and no overhead lights. The first thing that I did when we moved in was to take down the heavy draperies and replace them with blinds. I could open them wide so that the sun would come into the room. We eventually got rid of the dark paneling, and added as many lights as possible to the room. It helped, but was never quite enough. I always felt like yelling, ‘Aziz! LIGHT!’

When we were looking for a new home, I wasn’t sure that we would ever find one that felt right. My husband actually found the home that we eventually bought. It wasn’t much to look at on the outside, but had four bedrooms. Our agent took us inside and I was not into the house more than 5 feet when I decided that this was the one. It was perfect! In so many ways…but most of all, because it was LIGHT. There are skylights, big windows, and a sliding glass door in the high ceilinged family room. Sunlight would literally stream in through the skylights in the afternoon. I knew that I had found home.
Light makes everything better. It allows us to see clearly. It illuminates the dark places, so that we may plainly see what we are dealing with.

The past few days have been sunny here…finally! We have had rain, rain, rain and lots of gray. So when the sun broke through, we threw open the blinds and opened the doors. We’ve been spending a lot of time in the back yard. It is nothing short of glorious!

It’s also been perfect for photographs. Light makes everything more vivid. It gives us depth and texture. Without a proper amount of light, everything seems flat and dull. I’ve taken more pictures in the last few days than I have in weeks – pictures of the blooming rhododendrons in our yard. Pictures of the light dappling through the trees. Pictures of the kids playing catch. Pictures of the dog trying to play catch. Pictures of the baby with sunlight lighting up his blonde hair like a halo. Pictures of glowing, radiant flowers. Pictures like the tree that so fascinates me.

The old snag becomes something else entirely in the late afternoon light. The colors are rich and warm, the shadows cast by it’s branches are fascinating. Set off by the brilliant blue of the evening sky, it is spectacular. (that was for you, mh!)

Photography is all about light. Get it right, and you have a stunning photograph. Get it wrong, and either you cannot capture the image that you see before you, or it becomes washed out and featureless. The sun is perfect light.

The Son is perfect light. I could go on and on with that analogy, and probably will in subsequent posts.

Today, I am thankful for the light, more than ever. I am thankful for color in my world. I am thankful for depth, for texture, and for illumination.

Good job, Aziz!

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Letting go is a major theme!

I was looking through years of photos recently, and came across the picture of these shoes. They were my favorite shoes for such a long time! They were easy to slip on and off, comfortable, and because they were white, matched everything. This is actually the second pair, as the first became so dilapidated that I had to throw them out…but not before I had found an adequate replacement.

Actually, I had to resort to extreme measures to get rid of that first pair. I just could not part with them to save my soul. They were ratty looking and a filthy that even bleach and detergent could not correct. I had worn them so much and in wet and warm temperatures, and they didn’t smell very well. But I loved them! Every time I tried to throw them away, I would immediately fish them out of the garbage for “one last wear”. I finally put them in the garbage one day and then left the house. I called my husband to make sure that he would dump the garbage and take the temptation away from me!

Eventually, this second pair met the same death. I think this time, I left them in a hotel garbage, knowing that I could not go back to get them.

First of all, I’m a cheapskate. I love a good deal, and I will make something last forever just to make sure that I get my money’s worth. I rarely own more than five pairs of shoes at one time, because I am so practical; one set of black heels, one pair of black flats, tennis shoes, one pair of light colored heels, and something that I can slip on in a hurry. With these five, I can pretty much cover any outfit that I might wear, and I just can’t bring myself to buy cute shoes for every outfit.

I’m also hesitant about change, because with change, there is the possibility that I will not be as happy with it as if I had stayed with my original option. I get attached to things and people easily, and it’s hard to break that attachment. I actually miss those shoes, even now, and it’s been years. Which is one of the thinking patterns that I need to break. I hold on to things (as previously discussed, like grudges) even when they are not good for me. My poor white shoes, for instance, that were stinky! I knew that they were stinky, and I sprayed them and washed them and all of that to try to get rid of the smell, but they were still stinky. Even so, I was comfortable in them, and I couldn’t bring myself to just throw them away. I keep clothes that don’t fit or are ugly, because I might need them someday. I keep odd things because they are sentimental or might be used in a craft project. Every so often, I have to purge my stash, just to keep my home from being overrun. I have to take full advantage of those moods, because it’s the only time that I can get rid of things and not feel bad the whole time!

I know that this is what happened in my last job. It had become something that I wasn’t benefitting from, and might even be hurting me. Yet, I could not let go because letting go was scarier than facing the facts.

I held on to the friends that I had because they were my friends. Even when it became apparent that they were not making me feel good about myself, or supporting me in the good things that I did. I held on to them because I was afraid of not having any friends. I held on too long, and it made the separation that much more painful, because I had let them hurt me before I walked away. I should have stepped back when things were still good, so that I was able to say goodbye without the anger and resentment.

I love the email that circulates that talks about friends being there for a reason, a season, or a lifetime. Sometimes, people come in to our lives for a reason. It might be fleeting, and when they have served their purpose, they move out of our orbit. Other times, they are there for quite a season before falling out. Some friends will be there for a lifetime. I just haven’t figured out how to use this in my life. I keep trying to hold folks close when they are past their time -- their expiration date, if you will! I don’t want things to change, I just want to add to my life. But that’s impossible; one cannot continue to add people to their lives and never change their roles. My counselor says that I miss them because I haven’t replaced those spots in my life, and she is right. I’m working on that. We do need to maintain a certain number of people in our lives, or we will be lonely and isolated.

This doesn’t change the importance of those people in my life at the time that they were supposed to be there. I had some wonderful times with them, I learned from them, and I value the memories that I have. I’ll keep the memories. But the old shoes have got to go!

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Fresh as a Daisy

I was reading a scrapbooking magazine today and saw a layout titled, “I’m good now.” The journaling was about how she had battled depression, and might battle it again, but she was good now. I’ve been thinking that, too. Even though I am coming off of one of the worst periods of depression that I’ve ever suffered…I think that I’m good now. Strong. If not strong, definitely stronger than I was just a few weeks ago. Is it possible? Could I be “in remission”?

When I began seeing a counselor, I was hopeful. Just having someone to talk to that was not emotionally involved with me was a great relief. I could be perfectly honest and forthright, and I knew that she would be, also. Having a total stranger tell you that you are a good person is a lot different than your mother telling you that you are a good person, if you know what I mean! Don’t get me wrong…Moms should still tell us that we are good, and that they are proud of us, though.

The first week, I poured out my issues, and she told me that it was perfectly natural to be depressed in my situation. She wasn’t s hocked that after 6 months, I wasn’t well, that I hadn’t beaten back the demons. That in and of itself was the lifting of a burden. Just having someone who can see my life through unbiased eyes!

I didn’t realize how very far I had fallen, until I talked about it one night with my husband. I had gotten to the point where I was paralyzed with fear. I was afraid to approach a potential employer. Afraid to try to do any job, for fear of failure. I had even transferred these feelings to my personal life, and felt ill at ease in public. I was sure that everyone was staring at me, knowing what a failure I was. Knowing that I had nothing to offer anyone. Knowing that I was less than perfect. I avoided public at all costs. Church was even uncomfortable, as I avoided personal contact with people just because I was so broken inside. I had stopped trying, I no longer did things that I enjoyed, nor did I attempt to really accomplish anything. My house was clean. I felt that if I was unemployed, I should have a perfect house. But other than that, I was just scared.

I couldn’t see any way out. I would always be a failure, I would never be able to be a functioning member of society again. I no longer made a difference for anyone. I would think of going to school, or going back to work, or even entering a social situation and cringe.

Since meeting with my counselor, I have come so far! I am confident as I work towards jobs again. I know that I have skills that can be utilized. I have hope that some day, I’ll find just the right job, and until then, I will be fine.

I am stepping out of my shell, also. I gave blood today at a local church, and after I left, I realized that I had gone in with my head held high. I had talked with folks. I had laughed, I had really and truly been THERE. It was very, very exciting!!! I hadn’t even noticed that change coming. As I drove home, radiant from my grand accomplishment, I realized that I was reaching out more and more, and folks have been reaching back. I have been laughing and talking with an old group of friends that have been reunited in graduation plans for our sons. I have been on Facebook. I’ve been honestly trying to be the old me again.

We had also had a family argument this week. It happens! My teenagers were bickering and it was driving me insane. We had the argument, and we were able to end it with a good talk. It wasn’t perfect, but afterwards, I didn’t sink. I didn’t panic. I didn’t second guess myself. I felt like we had made some progress and perhaps they understood where I was coming from a bit more. I know that my oldest is struggling a bit now, too, so I worry about him. I want to reach out to him. I want him to know that I’ve seen the dark places, and I’m not afraid of them anymore…that I’ll go into them with him, and shine light in all of the corners.

I can’t believe that there has been this much of a change in so little time! Not that I’m complaining! I am thrilled to be at this point. I’m just hoping that it’s a long term thing, and not a brief respite. I have come to realize that depression is what it is, and like other diseases that weaken our physical body, it may be with us for life. But we can manage it, and we can overcome those times when it feels like you are about to go down for the last time.

I ran across this picture of daisies that I had taken a few years ago. I love daisies, because they are so bright and cheerful…simple, yet beautiful. And they last forever. I mean, really, have you ever had cut daisies in a vase? They last longer than any flower that I’ve ever cut. My dad gave me daisies when I graduated from High School. My grandpa sent me daisies when I competed at the State Junior Miss program. They lasted for more than a week or so beyond any of the other flowers. For this and for the sentimental value that they now hold, I love daisies.

I want to be a daisy…resilient, able to grow in even diverse conditions. Long lasting even when they are cut from their roots. And cheerful. I want to be cheerful.

I also noticed, as I looked through photos taken years ago, that I am not the same photographer. When I took this photo, it was a major accomplishment for me. Very artistic! The rest of my photos from that time period are a mix of blurred shots, bad composition, or terrible lighting. I hadn’t realized that I had improved in this area, either! Made me feel pretty good about where I am today in many respects.

As the scrapbooker says, I’m good now. Hopefully for a long time…just like a daisy.

Remembering those who serve

One of my favorite childhood memories was of a Fourth of July Parade on our street. Sadly, we lived in a small town, and there was no city parade scheduled. I am resourceful. I planned my own parade.

My brother was to ride his bike, pulling a float behind him. The “float” was a box filled with dirt, if I recollect correctly, and sported one of my dolls holding a baby. She was a war widow. How I knew about war widows at that time, I’ll never know, but there she was. A cassette tape recorder played a rousing rendition of patriotic music sung by yours truly, recorded earlier. I followed behind, twirling a baton. We both dressed in red, white, and blue.

Our parade went all of the way up the street, which was less than a block long, and back again. Never mind that no one was there to watch. One neighbor came out and was thrilled with our parade and took pictures of us. Maybe no one was home. But we were doing our duty for our country anyway.

Another wonderful memory is of a show that we put on as cousins one summer. The big finale was a number in which our stars danced on a table and we threw rose petals as we all sang “You’re a Grand Old Flag” at the top of our lungs. What a great song that is! So rousing! I still sing it occasionally at the top of my lungs.

We’ve always been a patriotic family. We believe in this country, and the ideals that it was founded on. We love the stars and stripes. When Tuxedo Boy was about 5, he saw a flag vest at Wal-Mart, shopping with Grandma. “We have to get one of those!” He said. “My mudder would WOVE one!” He was right. I loved that vest that he gave me for my birthday.

My home is decorated in Americana. I was afraid to do it at first, thinking that I would wear it out, get sick of the Grand Old Flag. I haven’t! In this home that we have been in for seven years, we were lucky to have had an Eagle nest hovering over our backyard. We have watched the baby Eagles learn to fly, and watched the parents return year after year to reign majestically.

We are not a grave-visiting family. My extended family does so, but it’s just not something that my immediate family took up. We believe that memorials are something that should be celebrating the life of someone, rather than the death. They are not in that grave, anyway, and we can commune with them and be grateful for them anyplace. We’re also a thousand miles from most of the family graves, so that may have something to do with it!

We don’t wait for Memorial Day to remind us to be grateful for the sacrifices that have been made on our behalf. We are truly grateful, every single day, for the families who have given much to maintain our way of life.

There are those who lost their lives fighting for the United States…my grandmother’s brother who died at the Battle of the Bulge. I don’t think that she ever got over that loss, nor did my great-grandmother. My husband’s great-grandfather came home intact…at least physically. His scars were emotional, and his family said that after his return, he would sit on his mother’s lap and she would rock him. He was over six feet tall. He accidental death shortly after is somewhat questioned by his family. Perhaps the pain was just too much to bear and he took his own life at that time. An uncle who returned from Viet Nam, never to speak of his experience there. A friend who died in the Gulf War, leaving behind a beautiful widow and two equally gorgeous baby girls.

Our current military continues to sacrifice. My brother has taken his turn in Iraq and elsewhere throughout the world, leaving behind his family, as has a cousin that recently came home. Each time they leave, it is understood that they might not return. They prepare for such an eventuality…and always hope that this time, it might not be. We have gratefully, thankfully, been spared that pain. I can’t even imagine how I would cope with that loss! But that does not mean that their family…and extended families…have not suffered.

His children have spent long periods of time without him. His wife has had to be a single parent many times. Their relationships are strained as the coming and going is dealt with, the distance to be overcome. They are often unable to plan basic family vacations, for fear that these plans will be changed at a moment’s notice.

The day to day strain of the military is also a sacrifice. They never settle in one area for too long. They have to make friends quickly in each area, only to leave them behind very soon. They learn to keep in touch with those that are no longer available to you every day. Their home is never their own, and may or may not fit their home décor.

And all so that we can continue to enjoy the freedoms granted us by this country.

We are thankful for each and every one of them. The ones that go TDY, the ones that stay home. The MP that keeps my sister in law safe on base while my brother is away. The wives who band together to make life bearable for one another and the children that they share. For those who served many years ago, and the ones who do so today.

We have a dear friend and adopted family member who served in France. He tells of a time that they were on duty and heard music coming…a group of local youth had made cakes (in a time of flour rationing) and came out to bolster the American troops that were there to protect them. He then got tears in his eyes when he talked of how France has forgotten what the Americans did there. So many of our men never came back from those fields.

In the recent batch of family pictures that I have been deciphering, there is one family that is eluding me. Franklin T. Brown, Sr, died in March of 1945 in Germany. I have a beautiful picture of his family, a smiling wife and two adorable boys. The boys would still be alive, having lived some 60 years without their father. I have a photo of his gravesite. I don’t know when he was born or his parents, even his wife’s name. I did find the location of the grave. He is buried in Luxemborg. Even his body was lost to the family.

Yes, it’s true that they are not truly there in the grave, and that gravesites are not the only place to memorialize someone. But how heartbreaking to not even be able to say goodbye. Communication was not the same as it is today. His wife may not have heard for days or even weeks after his death. She may or may not have had any contact with him during the time that he served.

I am appreciative of today’s technology that allows our service men and women to freely communicate with their loved ones. Email, webcams, digital photography and videography allow them to share experiences on both sides of the conversation. Our service folks get to take part in their family’s life, and talk a bit about what they are doing. We have come so far.

Someday, I’ll find out the name of the pretty lady who raised those two boys without Franklin. I may even find the little boys whom I have so many pictures of. I hope that their lives were healthy and happy and that they were rewarded in some way for the sacrifice that they made for ME.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Letting Go

The year that I graduated, we had two Mothers of the Year, as there were many admirable mothers in our class. My mother was chosen, along with the mother that lived at the other end of the district and had had an effect on an entirely different group of classmates. It was a great honor for these women, and an apt reward for the years of service to not only their own children, but to all of the others that passed within their circle of influence.

When my brother graduated, the Girl’s Club advisor was the school secretary, a young single woman who tried to be the students’ friend more than a teacher. Her intentions were good, but she was young and not quite ready to be an authority figure to teens. She sent out the ballots for Mother of the Year and instructed the Seniors to vote for the woman who had done the most for their class. Again, there were several women deserving, and it came to a tie. Rather than allow the tie to go forward, as my class had done, she asked for a re-vote. This time, instead of sending out a list of the Senior mother’s names, she just asked them to vote for the woman who had done the most for their class.

Somehow, the vote came back with her name as the top ballot winner. An older, more mature advisor would have stopped right there, thanked the students for their praise…but had them vote for specifically a Senior Mother. I can’t begin to explain why she allowed them to award it to her, but she did, and it caused quite a stir amongst the mothers in attendance.

Even if the mother did not believe herself to be the rightful winner, she knew another mother that she felt deserving of the prize. My mother was rightly disappointed, as she had felt that any number of women would have qualified, but that this woman had misused her position and taken the honor from others more deserving. It’s something that has been discussed and rehashed many times in our household, and it always ruffles Mom’s feathers.

I tell you this because I attended Tuxedo Boy’s Senior Mother’s Tea just last week. We had refreshments and tea games, and then the Seniors stood to say something to each of their mothers and present us with beautiful spring flowers. My son thanked me for putting up with his crabby moods, which was appropriate! Two of his friends thanked the group of four moms that had worked together many years ago in Scouts, and have remained dedicated to this group of boys. We cherish each one of them as our own, and have been pleased to see them grow up as friends. It was so sweet, and meant the world to me. (In Tuxedo Boy’s defense, he said that he was stressed and just forgot to thank the other mothers)

When we got home, we were talking about the Tea with my parents, and Mom asked who had received the Mother of the Year. This is a tradition that died years ago, to my knowledge, and could likely have died the year that my brother graduated, for all that I know, but was not awarded this year.

And then she said, “I was SOOOOOO mad the year that your brother graduated!”

I stopped her right there by laughing and reminding her that I’d heard the story some 10,000 times before, I agreed with her, but that it had happened TWENTY years ago and she needed to get over it.

I tell this story not to chastise my mom, who obviously had very hurt feelings over the whole thing, but to emphasize a concept that I struggle with: Letting go.

I have a tendency to hold grudges. My dad and I often joke that “we don’t get even, we keep score”. While this is pretty common in most folks, I have some things that I simply cannot let go of. They are tossed around in my head like clothes in a dryer, waiting to stick to something else that might be taken out and used. They show up at strange times and cause such a visceral reaction that it takes me off guard. Sometimes, I’m not even aware that I’ve remembered such a thing, only that I am angry about something that is happening now and I’m not sure why.

The first step to letting it go is to identify what it is in the first place. When I suddenly get angry and it has little to do with what is actually happening, I have to stop and ask myself what it reminds me of…how it makes me feel, and what else makes me feel that way. This is, incidentally, the most difficult part! We do a very good job of keeping these things from ourselves! It’s a coping mechanism, but not a solution mechanism.

I also believe that there must be some sort of resolution to things. In this illustration with the Mother’s Tea, there was no resolution. No one stepped down…not likely, anyway. No one apologized…and while you certainly wouldn’t expect the winner to apologize, I think that Mom would have liked for her son to apologize. (are you listening??!! Hee hee)

We all need to come to some sort of “end” in order to get over things, and I’m finding that most of the time, I have to find the end myself. It cannot be something that comes from others…because that usually doesn’t happen.

I’ve been working with a therapist to begin to think more effectively. I’ve had a lot of years of depressed thinking, and it’s hard to break that pattern. In this case, I have to decide what I can live with. I know that I cannot live with grudges, because they eat away at you, a little bit every day. You end up with an empty inside and it hurts no one but yourself.

I was recently feeling overwhelmed with sorrow about how people that I thought were my friends could treat me in the way that they had. My therapist pointed out that I may be misinterpreting what they had done. Maybe they stayed away from me because they didn’t know what to say…or they just got busy…or whatever reason that they had. I had to work at this way of thinking, because I know that if the roles were reversed, I would want to keep in touch with them.

And then she said something that put it all into perspective. She asked me if I still wanted to spend time with these people…did I want to be LIKE these people? The answer was clearly no, in my heart. Then, she asked, why does it matter if they still like you or not?

Good point.

My family loves me, and I still have friends … maybe not ones that I see every day, or even every week… maybe I don’t have someone calling me all of the time, but I have friends. Ones that really care, and when they do call or talk to me, they really want to know how I am. Ones that are good, truthful, with no ulterior motives. Ones that I want to be more like. I’ll surround myself with THESE people, and the people who don’t like me…well, that would be their baggage.

I’ve been blessed with a few friends who have been very caring and supportive during these times, you know who you are! Thank you…thank you. There are not words to express my appreciation for you. And for all of you who have been a good friend to anyone who is struggling. That is the measure of a true disciple of Christ, to help someone when there is no reward for doing so…except knowing that you have made a difference.

What are you holding on to that you might let go? What is really important, and what is not worth the energy that it takes to be offended? What can you decide that will help you to LET GO, and move on?

And Mom, you’ve always been Mother of the Year to me. Does that make it any better?

Friday, May 22, 2009

Like Sleeping Beauty

I slept in this morning…what a glorious experience that is! I am blessed with a baby that sleeps until 8 at the earliest, but as late as 11:00! I usually get up to see the older boys off to school, but once in awhile, I like to take advantage of the morning and stay in bed until I actually wake up.

I consider it one of the most magnificent indulgences! That, and what I call “Princess Naps”, in which you have a whole day to accomplish things…beautiful sunshine…and yet, you crawl in your cozy bed and slumber until there’s no more fatigue left anywhere. I don’t get those as often, with a three year old, though.

There is a moment just between sleep and wakefulness that is filled with such joy and promise. You are not yet out of the world of slumber, and dreams float in and out of consciousness. You are aware of your surroundings, but still able to slip back into the fuzzy shadows that take you away with sleep. They often overlap, giving you this amazing blend of reality and surrealism, where your visions embrace your thoughts and anything is possible.

It is this moment that I try to stay in for as long as I can. Having dealt with depression most of my life, I found that this moment is untouched by the disease, and I am most likely to experience happiness and peace if I can prolong my actual waking. I can slip back and forth between the two worlds, unhindered by negative thoughts or self-doubt, liberated by my imagination.

Once my eyes are fully open… when the dreams have fallen away like a silky sheet draped over me, leaving me exposed and vulnerable…I am then clutched by the fears and pain that accompany my sentient mind.

This morning, I saw sunshine coming through the blinds, dappled by the overgrowth of vegetation outside my window. The tiny sparks of light resembled diamonds in the haze of my condition. A down comforter kept me warm and snuggly, surrounded by soft pillows and the folds of cool cotton sheets. It was pure bliss.

I let myself snooze, allowing the content of my dreams to stay a moment longer, allowing me to both take pleasure in and ponder these images. Are these things that my heart yearns for, or are they merely a delusion fueled by random synapse activity in my brain? Can you truly learn from these dreams, allow yourself to work through the stressors of daily life?

I would respond affirmatively. I have found many times in which I have received the answers to prayers in my dreams. I have discovered tiny bits of information that during the daylight hours, I had felt necessary to hide from myself. I have had a visual dialogue with my subconscious and found the key to struggles that I had been going through.

I dream constantly. From the moment my eyes close at night until the alarm sounds shrilly, I am dreaming. I used to remember these dreams well into the day, leaving me feeling exhausted and overwhelmed. I had little ability to screen these, and felt as if I had never slept. I’ve taken medication for years, however, and one of the blessed side effects is that it has differentiated between the two states of consciousness, and given me respite from the strains of being “on” around the clock.

If I am awakened suddenly while in a dream, I find myself feeling disoriented and agitated. I can’t quite put my finger on what was happening in the dream, and yet, I can’t quite shake it. I wrestle with the aftereffects well into my day, trying to snag bits and pieces of the images and put them together into a whole that might make sense to me. I experience moments of déjà vu, where I can almost…but not quite…catch a glimpse into that world that eludes me. For this reason, I try as often as possible to allow my natural cycle to wake me.

Today, I wakened slowly, sweetly, and with none of the negative feelings. What dreams lingered as I woke were pleasant. The sun was shining, and the baby had slept long enough that he, too, was likely to wake in a good mood.

What an incredible start to the day!

My favorite place to wake is in the East bedroom of my grandmother’s house. It is – at least in my mind – MY room. The mountains bump up against the edge of her neighborhood, and block the morning sun for some time. It lights up the sky in radiant colors as it approaches the crest, bursting over the summit in a wash of radiance.

The bed was placed against the west wall, making way for the luminous wave to splash over the windowsill and bathe your face, waking you in it’s brilliance. It was warm and wonderful, and such a glorious beginning to the day.

Once, my cousin and I slept in the back of my dad’s truck in the front yard of Grandma’s. The rear window of the canopy promised to be a window to the sunrise, as well. Unfortunately, before the sun made it through the pane, it had heated the interior of the truck to a stifling degree, and we were forced to emerge, sweaty and gasping. Not quite what I had hoped for!

I must note that in order to achieve this perfect morning, it took a bit of finagling. You see, my dog gets wet food first thing in the morning, and this is something that she looks forward to all night. She lies in wait outside my door, listening for the alarm or any trace of movement inside. And then she goes crazy, whipping the two cats into a frenzy, also. If I do not emerge soon enough, she throws herself against the door, attempting to open it and/or force me to open the door.

Somewhere along the lines, she began looking for me in the baby’s room. Not finding me did not deter her, as it became a very effective way to flush me out. The baby monitor rocks on my nightstand as she slams into the door, which has a loose latch. The door strikes the wall, and you can hear her huff into the room. (She’s a large dog, and none too graceful!)

Then the cats join the action, climbing in the baby’s bed and nuzzling him. He, of course, wakes up screaming with as this furry intruder kneads with it’s claws and purrs loud enough to rattle the windows.

I then come screaming from my room, trying to keep them from waking Mr. Grumpy, who is NOT a morning person. To keep them from any more antics, I go ahead and feed them…and they think, “Mission Accomplished!”

So this morning, I was creative. When I woke about 7ish, I opened the door and let the dog in. Even though the cats are anxiously waiting, they are unable to open any doors, and the baby is safe. And my morning was unhindered.

Mission Accomplished. You just have to be smarter than the average dog.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

"We don't ski too well...but we're real fun at dinner!"

If our family had a motto, that would be it. I think that it very nicely sums up what and who we are, and how we approach life!

I didn’t learn to ski until about the time that I got married. (It would have been far too easy to learn to ski when I was in college and living 20 minutes from a great resort. No, I had to wait until any mountain was four hours from home)

My dad was patiently teaching my brother, me, and my husband. The guys caught on all right, but I was really struggling. I’d go about ten feet, then crash and never could get the turns. Dad finally told me to “stop looking for a place to fall down!”

Then going down a hill once, I realized that if I shifted the weight on my foot, that I changed direction. It was an epiphany for me! It was all about weight distribution, just like in ballet. When I mentioned my great flash of wisdom, Dad looked at me like DUH. At which point I snarled that he should have told me that in the first place, as it would have made things much much easier.

I was also wary of the ski lift, which I was sure would be the death of me. I would palpitate waiting for it to sidle up behind me. I would sit stock still all of the way up the mountain, for fear of falling off. And the dismount was always an adventure. One of the first times up the mountain, I was sweating as we approached the end of the lift. I was very careful to keep my tips up, heeding the warnings as you approached the ramp. I slid off of the seat and started down the hill…to find some fat chick crashed in the middle of the ramp! In a panic, I turned to the left, thinking that I could just hop off of the side. Not a good plan. The lift was higher than I expected, and there was a wall with poles rising out of it to stop me. They had to stop the lift to rescue me before I fell over the wall and slid off of a cliff, and I skied off embarrassed, and greeted by my family, which was now rolling on the ground laughing.

By way of vengeance, my brother soon found out why they tell you keep your tips up, and he fell into the net that precedes the ramp. This time, I laughed.

One time as we got on the lift, I saw something drop as my dad got on the chair ahead of me. I looked down and realized that it was the lens of his glasses. Not only does he need those glasses, but I wasn’t even sure that we could get him down the mountain without one eye! I reached out in my thick Gore-tex gloves and managed to snag it as my butt plopped and I was lifted 20 feet into the air. I was so afraid to move the whole trip. I sat there with my fingers clenched so tight that they were cramping by the time we got to the top, but we saved the lens.

We had our fair share of crashes. Dad and I would collide frequently down a hill as I tried to stay with him, but still not very sure on my skis. Once, I struggled to stop and slid right up and into the arms of the cousin of a friend of ours – I didn’t know him well, but he was very nice looking, so it was all good.

We then began to tackle moguls. There was one particular mogul field that we felt that we could handle, so a group of about eight of us began the journey. About halfway down, I stopped to catch my breath. Below me were various stages of “wreckage”, my friends and family strewn about. A trio of skiers glided up behind me, in their stunning high-end ski attire and surveyed the sight. “I think you just better play through,” I advised them. “We might be here awhile!”

One notable crash happened on a thin catwalk trail at the top of the mountain. I was a better skier at this point, but still nervous. I was so paranoid about falling off of the cliff on the one side. The next thing I knew, Dad hit me from behind and there were arms and legs going every which way. We finally came to rest just at the edge of the cliff, with my arms stuck underneath him and my body on top. At which point he says gruffly, “Get off of me!” Need I remind him that it was HE who hit ME??

But I was in trouble even when I was alone. One day, I came to a fork in the trail and was pondering whether to follow one set of friends down the easier slope to the left, or take the harder route to the right with my dad. I hesitated a few seconds too long, and was soon sliding down BOTH sides of the hill. One leg was travelling to the left, and one was travelling to the right. Unfortunately, my ski pole was lodged between the two, and soon ended up underneath my butt as I slid to a stop. My right leg is facing east, my left leg is facing north, and my hand is stuck in the loop on the ski pole, which is now all of the way behind me. I couldn’t get any leverage to pull myself back up the hill, and I couldn’t get my hand out. All I could do was sit there, pathetically, with my hand stuffed in my crotch, as a parade of skiers sailed past me. I have no idea how I finally got out, I only remember being mortified!

As I got to be a better skier, I wanted to prove to the guys that I could keep up with them. (for some reason, we had few women skiers in our group…they stayed in the lodge and read books or something) My favorite trick was to stand at the top of a cliff and look over the edge. If the guys wavered even a little bit, I would drop over the edge and tell them that we wouldn’t know if we could do it until we tried. Then they were committed and had to follow!

We had the opportunity to ski in some beautiful powder one day. It’s rare in our area, so we were really excited. We took the lift as far up the mountain as we could, and began to take some difficult trails down the mountain. We were at our peak as skiers, and we thought that we were pretty darn cool coming down the face of a bowl shaped hillside. Until my brother bit it. He fell end over end and a ski snapped off. It was almost impossible to find in the fine, deep, white powder! He kept reaching into the snow and feeling around, muttering to himself.

We loved to ski in groups, with friends from our area. We would caravan to the ski resort in a variety of cars, then meet up at the lodge. After a long day of skiing, we would begin the long drive home, stopping for dinner at a nice little restaurant that served excellent chicken noodle soup and fresh bread. We would delight the non-skiers at our table with tales of our crashes and adventures on the mountain, exhausted ourselves some more laughing. Then we’d sleep the rest of the way home, and the poor driver had to fight sleep to get us home.

One trip, we were asked to take along a co-worker’s teenage son. We didn’t feel that we could refuse, so we agreed. But we all were concerned about him, as he was a very good skier and somewhat cocky. We knew that he would be disgusted at our mediocre skills and would probably make fun of us, then ditch us on the mountain. Which would be fine, as he was somewhat intolerable at times, and never very happy with anyone.

To our surprise, he stayed with us the entire day. Even when we suggested that he take the harder runs while we made our way down, he trailed along and waited patiently as we picked ourselves up and dusted off, only to crash again five feet further down. He didn’t say much, but he didn’t say anything negative, so we included him in our conversations and decisions.

When we stopped to eat, we were especially careful to make sure that he was a part of the conversation, and explain any inside jokes that arose. And of course, we had some great crash stories to share. We were soon laughing and carrying on, and he along with us. As always, the stories brought gales of laughter and squeals as we recounted our alternating daring acts of bravery and complete lack of skill.

When it came time to leave, the room came to a complete standstill when he proclaimed, “I wanna come skiing with you more often. You guys are FUN!”

We were stunned. He didn’t laugh at us, and he didn’t get crabby. He thought that we were fun!

Dad broke the silence by telling him, “We don’t ski too well…but we’re real fun at dinner!”

It’s okay to be a clutz on a mogul field, as long as we have a good laugh about it later. I used to say, “It wasn’t a good day skiing unless you have some good crash stories to tell.”

Our family has always been like that. We’re not the richest, the smartest, the most well-read, or the most interesting. We’re not highly successful or famous or even perfect at what we do. But we enjoy our time together, and love and accept the limitations that we have. Rejoice in them, at times, even.

I think that I have forgotten that to some degree over the past years. I had forgotten that it’s all about enjoying the ride, not getting to the bottom first, or even making it without tearing out the seat of your pants as you land in a heap in front of a bevy of snobby skiers. At the end of the day, it’s okay if you can laugh about it and share it with your family.

No, we don’t ski too well…but we’re real fun at dinner!

365 days of Memories

I’m sure that you all know what a “365” project is…it seems that I was the last to hear about and jump on the 365 bandwagon! In the scrapbooking world, it is all the rage this year, thanks to Becky Higgins’ inspiration and kit. I’ve found that it’s also popular in the photography world, on a different level, and I believe that it might have many applications in our lives.

The basic premise is that you take a photo a day, every day, and scrapbook them in a special album. The standard is to scrapbook a week on a two-page layout, and in addition to Becky’s kit, there are many digital alternatives. That is the route that I am taking, as it allows me to very quickly scrap these photos in a beautiful format.

There is plenty of room for interpretation here! You can focus on whatever aspect of your photos that you wish…if you want to improve your photography skills, if you want to document the growth of your children, if you want to spotlight more of your daily life than you normally would in a scrapbook. I’ve heard of 365 projects that are entirely self-portraits, 365s for photo editing. It’s entirely up to YOU…what is important to you, and what you want to focus on.

My 365 is very flexible, but it allows me to scrapbook some quick little things that I might have otherwise gotten lost in the shuffle. Like when the Baby learned that he lived on Harbor View Loop…but he said it was “Harbor View Loop de Loop”.

I’ve also acknowledged my love of coloring – and my newfound skill in shading techniques! Digital scrapbooking is opening an entirely new world to me, the un-artist.

I’ve left a record of the equipment that we use these days. One day, these things will be old fashioned and clunky, and we’ll look back and laugh. For instance, we used to load computers from cassette tape!

I don’t even have a picture of the old cassette players that were prevalent when I was young, but they have a place in my memories. These gave way to boom boxes, then walkmans, CD players, and now the MP3 player. The ‘cell’ phone used to be huge and very militaristic, and now they range from mobile computers to tiny little things that slip in your pocket.

I’ve used it to work with my photography skills, as you can see in this photo of the Baby and his Hot Wheels. Not only did I show how he plays with them and his joy in doing so, but also did it in an artistic way.

And sometimes, I show off some of my favorite photos. This photo of a dandelion gone to seed in a field of dew-kissed grass is one of my best works. I was lucky to catch the sun at just the right angle, and worked to make my depth of field as shallow as possible to blur out the grass.

I can see other options for 365, too. What about 365 days of BLOG POSTS? 365 days of happy thought? 365 days of counting your blessings? 365 days of sketches? Saving 365 days of news headlines? They don’t have to be pictorially represented, and they don’t even have to be pretty. It’s just an opportunity to record our history little by little…I’m 20 weeks in and still keeping up with the workflow. Wish me luck!

I can’t think of a better way to spend my year!

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Make Your Own Kind of Music

My son (previously discussed as Tuxedo Boy) is getting ready to graduate in a mere 2 ½ weeks. To say that I am unprepared for this chapter in our lives is an understatement! I am trying very hard not to think about it too much, because it will be the most difficult thing in the world for me to let my children go out into the world. I have just recently become comfortable with Tuxedo Boy separating from me when we go to Wal-Mart, and he’s been 18 since November!

So our house has become a flurry of deadlines and gatherings and events such as you can imagine. Mother’s Tea was last night, Senior Boards tomorrow. We are mailing out announcements and planning gifts for his friends…it’s crazy.

Their graduation has been a tightly guarded secret, or so one would think. As parents, we have had little communication from the school, and we have had to trust that everything was going along and being planned. And in some respects, it has been, but there are a few holes.

Tonight, Tuxedo Boy told me that he would be playing a song at graduation. Now, mind you, he doesn’t play an instrument. (For years, he told me that he was “not a band kind of guy”…but relented and played keyboards for a couple of years just to make me happy) He and two friends will be playing a song on Rock Band, the music video game that is ubiquitous these days. It seems that no one else had come forward to present special music on this night.

I was thrilled. Let me tell you why…

When I graduated some…oh, ten or twelve years ago…hee hee…we wanted to use a more jazzed up version of Pomp and Circumstance to walk out to. We were flatly refused by the school district, who said that this was a solemn occasion, and therefore, something that we could not “mess with”. We came back with the benign request to graduate in black gowns, as opposed to girls in white, boys in black. Again, we were refused. This time, because our parents had spent so much time and money raising us, and if we all wore black, they wouldn’t be able to tell the boys from the girls. I’m pretty sure that after 17 years with me, my parents would recognize me in any color, but apparently there are some real challenged parents out there that we had to accommodate.

We were frustrated that the ceremony was planned by and for someone else, and not us. At the last minute, my classmates chose a little-known song from the movie “I am the Greatest”. No one had ever heard it: it was called The Greatest Love of All, later made popular by Whitney Houston. (Go ahead, look it up and you’ll see how many years ago that was) I was asked to sing, and of course, I agreed. What an honor to sing at graduation!

Well, like I said, it was a new song. No one knew it. My pianist – my grandmother – was not arriving until late on Friday afternoon. We had about an hour to practice before I had to leave for the ceremony. I thought that I had it down pretty good, and kept singing it in my head. I was confident.

And then they rearranged the ceremony! I would not be singing early in the evening, as planned, but after the scholarships. A regional scholarship was being awarded, very prestigious for my school, and the honored guests would be allowed to present this scholarship early so that they might leave.

Okay, okay. I’m still singing in my head. I’ve got this. Just keep working on it until it’s time to sing, and I would be fine. Ignore the speakers…just sing.

Trouble was that the regional scholarship was being awarded to…ME. Oh, wow. I was ecstatic and surprised, and thrilled and overwhelmed. And mind blown. Uh oh.

The moment of truth arrived, and I stepped up to the podium. The lyrics were right in front of me, I just had to concentrate on the tune. I heard my grandmother begin to play, and I sang the first words.

The piano was across the gym floor on the opposite side of the stage. The speaker, which was now blaring my voice, was right next to my right ear. Not good. Not only could I not hear the piano, but I was hearing way too much of me, and I was completely unnerved. And mind blown. And had no idea what the tune of the dang song was!!!

I couldn’t run, couldn’t hide. What was I to do? I kept singing the lyrics, to a tune that I believe that I made up on the spot, and somehow, Gram followed along. We started together, we ended together, but in between…not so much. My mom was sitting in the audience thinking that I was a little pitchy. Thank heavens that no one knew what the song was supposed to sound like.

I sat down after the song with great relief. I had completely massacred it, but it was OVER. My classmates raved and thanked me for singing this inspirational song, and all I could say was, “But that wasn’t the song that you asked me to sing!”

Flash forward 5 years, and my brother is graduating. As they discussed options for music, he insisted that I would sing for them. I have no idea why, if he really loved my voice, I was the best option at the time, or if he was hoping that I could redeem myself…but again, I was honored beyond words.

The song that they chose was a current Whitney Houston hit, “One Moment in Time”. This one, I knew. I practiced. I was ready. I was ready to prove to myself that I could take the pressure of another graduation. Two days before the big event, I caught a cold that settled in my throat. I pressed on, with a pocketful of Hall’s Cough Drops.

This time, we used a background tape, so the speaker blared not only my voice, but the music, as well. One hurdle down! The cough drops had done their job…I remembered and knew both lyrics and tune. It was flawless. As the graduates marched out of the gym, my voice boomed across the crowd…

“And in that one moment of time, I will be…I will be…I will be free!”

They fell into place for the reception exactly as the song ended in a crescendo of voice and music. The graduates flung their caps into the air and screamed. It was one of the most powerful moments of my life.

Friends sitting in the audience gushed my praises. Except for Dennis, who noted that I had sung the entire song with a blue tongue. Dang those Hall’s!

When Tuxedo Boy mentioned that they would be playing, I was so happy that they were able to do something innovative and personal for their graduation ceremony. No stuffy principal to tell them that they had to be completely traditional.

I do believe that graduation is a…perhaps not solemn…but rather, important occasion. I am not for showing up naked under your gown, or tie dying your gown to your own color scheme, as it is a serious event. But I do not believe that this needs to be so set in stone that they cannot see the ceremony as their own. Kudos to the administration that allows this creativity.

Rock Band is a staple in the American household, let’s face it. Who doesn’t own this or Guitar Hero? Or two or three versions of Guitar Hero? That it is here and now and very representative of their generation makes it all the more interesting.

Who doesn’t want to be a rock star? We’ve all sung into a mirror or played air guitar at some time. We all wanted to be able to perform and hear the crowd roar. Rock Band allows even the most musically challenged individuals a chance at fame, if only for a moment on the screen. To feel that they are talented and worshipped.

We are in some tough times, both economically and socially. The future is uncertain, and our graduates face challenges that we never dreamed of when we were wearing a cap and gown. Their situation is much more grave than ours was. They are entering an educational system that is bogged down with budget cuts and unable to accommodate all that wish to attend college. The work force is not much better. With nearly a 10% unemployment rate, these young, fresh faces have a great deal of competition in any field that they may be pursuing. Rising political situations threaten to destroy our way of life.

But on that night, our kids will be rocking out to a graduation-appropriate song, even if the instruments they play are nothing short of joysticks. They will be rock stars, playing to an adoring crowd that understands the power of the video game. This is their time, their world. They will be making music in their own unique and contemporary way.

Sure, it’s out of the ordinary. Maybe even quirky. The way that I look at it, they are good kids who have worked so hard to get to this night, against all odds. They have avoided drugs and alcohol and have not only finished their high school education, but have done so without reproducing or ending up in jail. They do not have piercings, tattoos, or brandings. Their hair, albeit long and shaggy on some, is not blue or shaved or anything aberrant in any way. If this is the worst that they have done in their short lives…I think that we should be darn humbled to be in their presence. Tradition is overrated in some respects, anyway.

If we can give them one night of glory, one night of good, clean celebration…I say, bring on the X-Box!