Wednesday, December 23, 2009

How Sweet the Sound

Yesterday was a day of amazing grace. I took some time in the afternoon to finish my Christmas shopping and returned to find my inbox filled with good news and an opportunity that takes my breath.

My main freelance client is a large and rapidly growing company. Their PR firm contacted me to ask if I'd consider taking part in a "media opportunity." Details to follow this morning, but here's the thing: this is a chance to come to the attention of people in high places. I've never seen a company pay more attention or go to greater lengths to reward loyalty and hard work. Who knows what might happen if I can pull this off.

I am excited. And scared. And curious. And grateful for this piece of Grace.

Please keep me in your thoughts and prayers.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Turning Toward the Light

Midnight on the winter solstice always finds me on my little deck, blowing ashes into the darkness. I write my fears on scraps of paper, burn them, and scatter them to the winds. This ritual doesn't magically erase my fears, but it does remind me that they're no more substantial than ashes in the wind.

My list of resolutions is growing by the day. Here's a sample:

I resolve to:

Be braver.
Say every loving thing I think.
Ask for help when I need it.
Stop drinking Coke.
Eat more local food.
Volunteer at least three times a month.
Grow a salsa garden and can salsa this summer.
Work harder than I think I can on my bike and at the gym.

More to come.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

The Ghost of Christmas Past

Mom and Dad aren't putting up a Christmas tree this year. I offered to put it up, take it down, and clean up any mess. They don't want it.

Neither Mom nor Dad ever had a tree growing up. Their folks were too poor or too practical or maybe just not sentimental enough. For my sister's first Christmas, Mom was living with her parents while Dad was in the Marines. She bought a box of ornaments and a tree, her own first Christmas tree as well as her daughter's.

Our childhood Christmases were magical. Mom baked and fixed and fussed. We cut down a tree together each year and put it up while we sang carols. We painted sugar cookies and made fudge. Dad popped popcorn and roasted almonds in the fireplace.  Even as a little kid, I understood how blessed we were even though we didn't have much money.

I swear to you: I am not making this up. One year we spray-painted the carcass of the Thanksgiving turkey and turned it into a golden sleigh for a Santa we made out of Styrofoam balls. We made a lake out of aluminum foil and little people out of marshmallows. We gave them hats made of crimson peau de soie (French for "silk of skin") left over from the Christmas dress Mom made for Debbie. We arranged lights around the edges of our snowy little town and left it up until the marshmallow people shriveled into senior citizens.

Daddy wrapped all his presents for Mom in matching paper. He arranged them under the tree and twined lights around them in their own special display. The packages never contained anything more exotic than a small blue bottle of Evening in Paris cologne or a dish from the dime store, but the care Dad took with Mom's gifts made them glow.

Santa did not just leave gifts: He created tableaus. The year Santa brought my brother a Boy Scout mess kit, he hung the pot on a tripod over logs laid out for a campfire. The year Santa brought a horse (yes, a horse), he left a saddle and bridle on hay bales in the living room floor. Handsome, the horse, had to wait outside. 

One year Santa brought ice skates for everyone. Mom packed a picnic and a cast iron skillet into a basket. We all skated on the creek until we were too cold to move and then huddled around the grill while Mom fried Spam for Spam-and-cheese sandwiches. She wore a white synthetic fur hat dotted with iridescent paillettes that sparkled in the sunshine. Laughing and twirling, she was the most beautiful sight in the world.  

I've been a lot of places since that day, from the Rainbow Room in Rockefeller Center to Kimo's in Lahaina and hundreds of places in between. Nothing I've eaten anywhere has tasted better than a grilled Spam sandwich and steaming hot Campbell's tomato soup from a chipped brown coffee mug at a roadside park in the Ozark Mountains.

I understand why Mom and Dad didn't want a tree this year, but it breaks my heart. It's just another inevitable step on a path I don't want to travel. We've been to the mountains. Guess now it's time for the valleys.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Time Flies

Boy, the week has gotten away from me. Katie and I had a good day on Monday and then I flew home on Tuesday. Craig drove me to the airport, once again carrying my bags and handling things like the gentleman his folks raised him to be. Very nice.

Paula came home yesterday, looking better than ever. Her bodywork is pristine, her bumpers sound, and her innerds back inside where they belong. It's good to driver her again, but she has a paint smell that gives me a headache. Hope that doesn't last too long.

Today I'm finally going to put up my Christmas tree. I usually get that done Thanksgiving weekend, but I was sick and just couldn't gather up the energy.  It will be good to sit with the lights on tonight.

Our family had dinner with Liz's folks last night. They're such nice people and so welcoming. It was a lovely evening. Their house is decorated so beautifully, it made me feel like such a slacker. Liz's mom, Kathy, loaned me a book called "Growing Wings." Reading part of it last night reminded me that I've lost the thread of wonder lately. I've been working so many hours and running so hard in other ways, that I've lost track of the magic happening all around me. 

The magic happens with or without my attention, but I'm happier when I take time to see it. I'm going to make a Barbara-style list of resolutions this year (long and very, very hopeful). Tuning into small miracles will be near the top of that list.

And the funny. I've got to find the funny again. And risk. I need to take more emotional and mental risks. 

Gee...2010's already shaping up to be an interesting year. Stay tuned.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

A Tale of Two Fathers

Dinner with Katie's birth father was fascinating. From the minute we hugged hello, it felt like catching up with an old friend. Well...not an old friend. D got carded when he ordered a beer. I felt like Methusala.

D brought pictures of the day Katie was born, and every piece of paper associated with her birth. He saves things from their reconnection, too. For example, he has the receipt for the Diet Coke and Hot and Spicy Cheez-Its he brought to their first meeting. (N told him she loves them.)

Before we left for the restaurant, Katie asked me not to cry. She said tears would make D uncomfortable, that he's not like N (who cries rivers along with me every time we meet). I didn't expect it to be a problem--for some reason, I don't feel quite as emotional about D as about N.

To our great amazement, D was the one whose eyes filled with tears as we looked through the photos and talked about Katie's birth. It's clear that reconnecting with her means a lot to him. 

By the time we left, D felt like a member of our extended family, someone I'll look forward to seeing at family gatherings and whose life I will be connected to forever, if somewhat distantly. 

Sunday was the graduation ceremony and dinner. Bill and Kathy made it through traffic faster than we did, and they saved seats for the rest of us. Stephanie (Katie's oldest friend, who is part of our family) and Craig sat between them and me, but we leaned across to speak a few times.

The ceremony itself was two very long hours interrupted by the thrilling 15 seconds when Katie walked across the stage to receive a faux diploma.

Afterward, we gathered at a restaurant. Bill and Kathy and Craig's mom (his dad wasn't feeling well and couldn't be there) were at the table when we arrived. The order in which we approached the table made it logical for me to sit next to Kathy. Katie and Stephie caught my eyes in a little panic, but I shook my head, smiled, and took my seat. Anything else would have been awkward, and I'm all about the peace these days.

As I took off my coat and settled my belongings, I thought, "How would you act if you didn't know her history?"  I literally felt years of antipathy take a seat in the far back corner of my consciousness, leaving room for other, more generous thoughts. It's not like I no longer remember how unkind and unfair she's been to my children for 16 years, but I've stopped carrying those memories like a weapon. I simply don't need to be right about her anymore. 

Her actions have created the relationship she has with the kids. That really is their business, not mine. My business is helping make these situations more comfortable for everyone. I smiled at her and said, "Katie tells me you've been having trouble with your back. How are you doing now?" We were off and running in a two-hour conversation that included genuine laughter and shared memories.

When we parted, Bill and I shook hands. I thanked him for splitting the tab with me, and we agreed to talk after the holidays. Kathy hugged me and wished me Merry Christmas.

Let me say that again: Kathy hugged me and wished me Merry Christmas. It's true that I'm making a huge effort here, but it's equally true that they are rising to the occasion. We've come a long way from the time when Kathy stormed out of Parent's Night because I sat down at the table beside Evan, a long way from the time

See? I'm still struggling. I almost wrote out a list of some of her more egregious transgressions over the years.  Like any other practice, peace is an on-going mission.

I'm working on it.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Pure Joy

Katie and Craig met me at the airport yesterday. When I stepped out the doors, Craig leaped from the car to take my bag and open the car door. It was a moment I'll never forget--my daughter's fiance treating me with care and love. I'm so happy she chose a man who treats women like this.

We grabbed a bite of lunch and then Craig left for work. Katie and I sat on their sofa and worked on our computers for a couple of hours, then she left to run errands while I conducted an interview for a magazine article I'm writing. When that business was finished, we hit the mall.

First, we shared a salad and a pasta dish at California Pizza Kitchen. We both enjoyed each dish and commented how nice it is that our tastes match so well. During dinner, we talked and laughed with two of Katie's friends who work at the restaurant. I advised one friend on her resume and how to approach finding a job. At one point, Sarah said, "Your mom is so supportive, Katie. No wonder you call her five times a day!"

I glowed.

I've been trying to interest Katie in Glee, my new guilty TV pleasure. She hasn't watched yet, but I mentioned it again at dinner. Her friend Abby was seating a party next to us and overheard. "Oh, Katie--you have to watch Glee. It's fabulous. I don't even have a TV and I can't stand to miss it."

Confirmation of my taste from someone she considers cool. Very nice.

After dinner, we found not one but two new coats she likes--one for everyday and one for interviews or a new job. We used coupons and plotted with the customer service person to get the biggest discounts possible on our purchases. We laughed. And laughed. 

When we hit the wall and started home, Katie wiggled in her seat and sighed. "A perfect evening, Mom. Just perfect."

Just typing that now, my eyes fill with tears again. I am so grateful for this time with her, so proud to see the young woman she's become. 

We're having dinner with her birth father tonight, the first time I've met him. It's sure to be interesting and I'm looking forward to it. The actual graduation ceremony will be Sunday, and I don't go home until Tuesday. 

Days more of this pure joy. 

Thursday, December 10, 2009

12-hour Slice of Life

12:01 pm:  Take phone call from other driver's insurance company, which FINALLY accepts liability for accident. Agent tells me I need to fax a copy of Paula's title so they can process claim.

12:15 pm: Call my insurance agent and put claim on hold, hoping this guy's insurance really is going to come through.

12:35:  Discover Paula's title is not in its place in the safe.

12:45: Take call from niece about tonight's celebration of her mother's (my sister's) birthday. Agree to make soup to serve everyone before we go to play. Realize we have one extra ticket. Offer ticket to my friend D, who's been longing for an adventure.

1:20 pm:  Give up on finding title. Go to DMV to request duplicate.

1:50 pm:  Fax notorized copy of duplicate title request to insurance company.

2:00 pm: Dash through grocery store for soup supplies.

2:30 pm:  Pick up Mom and Dad's dog, Tuffie, and take her to vet. (It's  too cold outside for Mom & Dad to be out.) Put chicken in their oven to bake.

3:45 pm:  Return Tuffie to Mom and Dad. Pick up baked chicken.

4:00 pm: Arrive home. Whip up double batch of chicken chili and a batch of cornbread muffins. Shower and dress while food cooks. Screech off to Deb's house, leaving cell phone at home.

5:15 pm: Arrive at Deb's house. Wish her happy birthday. Snarf down half a bowl of chili and dash off to pick up D. Notice I don't have enough gas in car to make trip downtown and back.

5:35 pm: Realize I forgot to serve cornbread muffins. They're still in their bag on counter. (sigh)

5:45 pm: Stop at home to retrieve cell phone. Stick phone in pocket and rush off to get gasoline.

6:15 pm:  Arrive at D's house. She greets me at door with "Oh, no. You didn't get my message." She has been attacked by stomach trouble and can't go after all.  Disappointment all around.

6:55 pm:  Arrive at theater. Slide into seat 5.8 seconds before curtain goes up. Struggle to remain awake during a musical version of The Christmas Story movie. Very cute.

9:45 pm:  Arrive home. Wash face and begin preparing for work awaiting me.  Think about how cold it is. Flash on a memory of hooking up hose a week or so ago to wash out trash can. Fail to find memory of unhooking hose.

9:46 pm: Trudge outside with flashlight. Discover hose frozen to outside faucet, icicles hanging all around. 

9:47 pm: Trudge inside for hair dryer, extension cord, and slip-lock pliers. 

9:50 pm: Blow dry the heck out of hose bib. Pray. Hard.

10:10 pm: Manage to twist hose off faucet, using slip-lock pliers. Faucet handle will not budge. Continue heating faucet with hair dryer.

10:25 pm:  Give up on heating faucet. Call brother in panic, hoping he knows magic answer. Hear brother confirm there is no magic answer. 

10:30 pm: Trace water lines through unfinished part of basement, looking for supply line to faucet. Find supply line, which runs into area with finished ceiling (very bad situation).

10:45 pm: Go back to heating faucet with hair dryer. 

10:55 pm: Give up on heating faucet with hair dryer.

11:00 pm: Begin search for drywall saw to cut into finished ceiling to warm pipe from inside. 

11:05 pm: Hear sudden sound of water running through plumbing above my head. Rush outside to discover faucet running full blast (the ice dam inside the pipe must have thawed somewhat through use of hair dryer. Force of water eventually broke through). 

11:08 pm: Turn off faucet. Disconnect hair dryer. Wind up extension cords. Return emergency flashlight to designated emergency location.

11:15 pm:  Remove pearls, tights, skirt, and cardigan. (Yes, indeed. I'd been outside trying to thaw the faucet wearing a skirt and pearls.)  Slip into comfy pjs. Settle into bed with laptop and 36 work emails to answer before sleep.

12:01 am: Give up at 16th email. Put laptop on floor beside bed and crash.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Back Into the Fire

Katie will graduate from the University of MN on Sunday. I'm flying up Friday. (Paula's still not fixed and the weather is threatening. Flying seems like the smartest route this time.)

Katie and I talked a little about what to do after the ceremony and the same old problem raised its ugly head: she's got too many separate families to accommodate. Since we have so little time together, she wanted to hang with me but it wouldn't be fair to leave her dad out. I fretted for a couple hours, then picked up the phone and suggested Bill and his wife and I take Katie and Craig and Craig's folks out to dinner.

He agreed.

After 16 years of enmity, we're working it out. It was the engagement party that did it.  I took the first step to creating peace for the celebrations surrounding Katie's wedding. Not easy, but doable.  

When her wedding day comes, Katie will walk down the aisle with Bill on one side and me on the other. My goal is for that to be entirely joyous for her. The only way that can happen is for me to be comfortable, and I'm working on it. 

This, then, is genuine forgiveness. It's not forgetting. It's not accepting unacceptable behavior. It's simply no longer needing the story to be different.  And it's loving my daughter more than I dislike them.  

That, I can do. Every day, and twice on Sunday. Twice this Sunday, as a matter of fact--once at the ceremony and again at dinner. 

Wish me luck.

Coming 'Round Again

Frank Bruni's Born Round: The Secret History of a Full-Time Eater carried me out of my snot-filled head this weekend. It made me laugh and made me think. Bruni, the restaurant critic for the NY Times from 2004 to the time the book came out in August 2009, describes himself as a baby bulimic.

Frank--and I think I know him well enough now to use his first name--tells a story I know well. One in which every date, every job, every encounter with new or old friends is judged on the scale of whether you're thin enough to be seen. One in which hurts and boredom and loneliness are medicated with food. One in which "being good" starts tomorrow. And tomorrow. And tomorrow.

Bruni fought his way to thinness not long before he was offered the job as the Times' restaurant critic, and he and friends worried about how he would handle being a professional diner. He has managed, he says, by realizing that he's going to eat fabulous food every day. Recognizing that more is coming means he never needs to over-indulge in what's in front of him.

Friends, it may sound odd, but I think that may be the key to getting a handle on my weight. My over-eating is, among other things, born of scarcity thinking. Out to dinner with friends? I should treat myself now--who nows when I'll get this chance again. Mom makes a great dinner? Of course I can have seconds--I won't cook for myself for days. Tired and bored but still have hours more to work? Pizza would get me through this. Just this once. I won't ever do it again, but tonight, I really need it. 

A friend at my old publishing house used to say, "Food begets food." And so it does, when you're always eating too much for the "last time."

Over the last few days, I've eaten almost everything that truly appealed to me at the moment. Surprisingly, it hasn't been that much. Giving myself ongoing permission frees me to eat only a little. There will, after all, be more soon. 

Making room for more has helped me lose 3 pounds since last Friday. It has also let me get off the teeter/totter of never again/more, now, lots.

Thanks, Frank. By the way--I liked your book.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Sleepless in Independence

The goose-haters drove off all but one goose on the pond, a beige/brownish goose with a bright orange beak and feet. It has the loudest, most plaintive call I've ever heard. This thing squawks at all hours of the day and night, over and over and over. I don't think I've slept through the night since it arrived last spring. I'd be cheering the goose-haters on if they could get rid of this thing. 

Maybe it knows it's Christmas again. Maybe it is crying over another year spent without a mate. Maybe the Christmas lights and the parties and the forced gaiety make it sad, too. 

Maybe I should squawk with it. 

Thursday, December 03, 2009

A Breath of Fresh Air

Ahhhh. My nose has cleared enough I can get at least half a breath of air. The additional oxygen gives me strength to type, so here I am again. 

Last week, a friend called, frantic. She's been having a major and on-going struggle with her SIL, and that SIL had just called to say she was on her way over. D was sure the SIL was coming over for the showdown at the I'm OK/You're OK corral that D had been rehearsing in her head for weeks. For the last month or more, D has spent most of the time practicing what she'd say when she stepped into that corral. She spends hours reminding herself of the best approach, building counter-arguments to the responses she imagines from her SIL.

Breathless on the phone, D asked me to pray that she'd be open to Spirit and to what her SIL had to say, that she'd be gentle but would remember all she needed to say. Then she hurried off to get ready, completely sure her SIL had realized D was pulling away from their relationship and would demand to know why. 

45 minutes later, D called back to say the SIL didn't want to fight. She came to drop off a gift in memorial of D's cat, who died recently. As D marveled, I wondered why she spent so much time and energy fighting with someone who didn't even know they were fighting. 

Of course, it wasn't long until the Universe mirrored that fun little judgement to me.

Our family Christmas has reached critical mass this year--too many people/work schedules/opinions to make everything work out smoothly. The problems involve the distance between my brother's house and the rest of us, kids who will only be home a few days, the need to accommodate the schedules of various boy and girl friends.

Tuesday night we had a discussion about all this. It became painfully clear that no one else is going to budge, that they all expect me to go along and get along.  Later, I drove away from Mom's, spluttering to myself.

Just once, I thought. Just once I want to be the one throwing the fit to get my way. This time, I'm going to speak up. They won't like it. Jeff will say....  And then I will say....

I hurtled through the darkness, fully engaged in a fight no one else knew we were having. As I rounded a corner, two deer leaped into my headlights. I grabbed for Cassie and stomped on the brakes. We skidded to a halt less than a foot in front of a doe--the proverbial "deer in the headlights" come to life.

If deer communicate, that one's still dining out on the story of the maniac woman who almost ran her down and then laughed so hard she blew snot all over the windshield.

In the split second I thought we were going to collide, I saw my silly self in that deer's terrified eyes. And I recognized I was doing the exact same thing that D had been doing. 

The kids and I may go to Jeff's. We may not. But whatever we do or don't do, I'm not going to waste any more of my life fighting about it. Especially when I'm fighting with my self.