learning to breathe…

Breathe_bestillweek2

So my plan to post several times a week seems to have stalled right out of the gate, but I promise to try and rectify that.

After such a long spell of neglecting the creative side of me, I seem to have lost my words, and I’m having a hard time relocating them. More than a lack of words, I seem to have lost my confidence, and I don’t know why…

Anyhoo… I’m really going to try and push through this (hopefully temporary) rut I find myself in and try to find my center again. I think part of it is that I have gotten so caught up in the rush-rush-rush all the time of homework, work, school, yada yada, that I have forgotten how to take time to pause, reflect, and connect with the beauty that’s all around, something which is vital for the soul, at least mine.

The photography class I just started, Kim Klassen’s “Be Still 52,” is just the thing I need to push myself in this direction. Like a divine reminder, the first week’s lesson was on the need for stillness and solitude to be able to connect with our creative side, and the photo assignment for week 2 was to shoot a subject with “breathing room.”

While it really isn’t a “still life” photo, this hummingbird spoke to me as he took a breather from his frenetic dance, resting at the feeder and taking his time to enjoy the bird version of a Starbucks chai latte, and relishing the world around him. Last Saturday I spent several hours glued to my chair at my husband’s camp-spot, enjoying the sights and sounds of the stream, all the different birds, the rock-chucks chattering… all of life’s rhythms that I’ve been too busy or distracted to notice. I would have gladly stayed there for hours more, but as always, laundry, house cleaning, and grocery shopping beckoned and I had to hurry back to the rat race!

Now that I’m remembering how good it is to just “be,” and take time to breathe, I will return…

A good friend just reminded me to remember the words of the Psalmist (46:10): “Be still, and know that I am God…” How I need that reminder!

See you soon. <3

“Be

Photo processed with Kim’s “shine” texture.

at long last…

Flower_rest

I’m back!

These last two semesters were particularly crazy with two classes plus an internship during the fall and three classes this spring (including math, after a 26-year break… blech!), on top of family life and a full-time job. But, at long last I can finally say that I am a senior!  Only a few more (part-time) years to go… ;)

I decided to take a much-needed break from classes this summer to refresh, regroup, and reconnect with my blog and, hopefully, my creativity. A year of math and “technical” writing will drain the creative lifeblood from anyone! I’ve set a goal of at least 2 posts per week, so I hope you’ll stop back by…

To help with this, I’ve signed up for an online photography class called “Be Still” with the amazing Kim Klassen, which starts mid-May, as well as an older class she teaches called “Beyond Layers.”

Today’s picture incorporates blossoms on my crab-apple tree, Kim’s “simplicity” texture, and a quote I found online about the need for rest from Mark Buchanan, author of a book titled The Holy Wild: Trusting in the Character of God.

Oh – and I’m doing a test-run of a new blog format, so I’d love some feedback.

Can’t wait for the rest of summer! See you back here soon…

 

happy birthday, joshy!

JoshAsRambo

My apologies to Sylvester Stallone for the shameless hijacking use of his photo!

Today I am sending out a happy birthday wish to Josh as he turns the big 28! Since you aren’t home to help me with my math homework, I didn’t have time to write a new story. Instead, I’ve revamped this older one. Oh – but I did have time to peruse the family photos for an appropriate picture. ;) Hope you enjoy it!

In honor of his day, I thought I’d blog about one of my favorite “Joshisms”: the day he rounded up one of our wayward cows, Oscar (aka “the Grouch”). I think he (Josh, that is) was about 13 or 14 at the time.

The year after we bought our home, which sits on a 2-acre lot in what can still be classified as the country, Tom thought it would be a great idea to get horses and/or cows, fondly remembering animals from his childhood. I tried to remind him that “real life” isn’t always like we remember, but to no avail. Soon after, a family from the church we were attending moved to Colorado and couldn’t take their animals with them. Happily, he scooped up their three young steers with the intent of raising them for beef. And we got them for an incredible bargain to boot. Great idea, right? In hindsight, we should have insisted that they pay US to take them off their hands, considering that Oscar was almost certainly demon-possessed!

Anyway, we spent one long, hard month rebuilding the fence and fixing the holes around our pasture before having the three “adorable” cows delivered. And they really were cute, for about the first hour or two. It soon became apparent that the smaller two were sweet and tame, but they were bullied (haha!) into following the lead of Oscar, who could rival Houdini in being able to escape any prison. I swear we spent half of our life during that time chasing the cows around our yard, around all the neighbors’ yards, and once or twice even rounding him up from the other side of town! Let me just say that it was not the best way to get to know our new neighbors… It got so bad that I didn’t ever want to come home after work because I knew what awaited me: the sight of two cows hanging out in the (unfenced) front yard, with Oscar nowhere to be seen.

One day, as Tom tells it, he came home early from work.

The house was quiet with no kids in sight, so he was relaxing in our kitchen and enjoying a pre-dinner snack when all of a sudden he saw Oscar maniacally tear past the window, eyes bulging and tongue lolling. He moved to take a closer look but immediately jumped back after seeing another maniacal blur hot on his trail, dressed head-to-toe in army fatigues, camouflage face makeup included.

“What the *#$(!*! ??” he thought to himself as he rushed out the door…

The first blur was, of course, Oscar, but the second was Josh, looking more than a little like a character out of Rambo, albeit on a smaller scale. He had come home from school to find the steers, once again, MIA. After easily rounding up the first two (their hearts weren’t really in the job), he tried repeatedly to sneak up on Oscar so he could herd him back to the pasture.  But every time the devilish beast caught sight of him, he’d take off again. They were not exactly friends at this point, and I guess that something inside Josh’s young teenage brain just snapped. He came in the house, dressed up in Tom’s Army fatigues, and covered his face in camouflage makeup. He was a man on his first-ever undercover mission!

Poor Oscar was so bewildered and freaked out by this strange creature screaming and chasing him, he ran straight past the house, actually bypassed the gate, and leaped OVER the fence back into the pasture to escape him.

Mission accomplished – HOOAH!

Josh was 9 years old when Tom and I got married. The years haven’t always been easy, and we’ve had a power struggle or two (hundred!) as he tried to adjust to life with a step-mama. Although he may not have come from my body, I couldn’t love him any more if he had.

You are definitely of my heart!  Love you Josh, and I hope your birthday’s wonderful!

the proposal

I don’t remember if it was spring or fall, but it was THE perfect day: brilliant blue sky, fluffy white clouds, and an expanse of emerald grass that, in memory, was so much softer than any I’ve felt since. We were in the small neighborhood park tucked neatly into the ravine behind the apartment my mom and I had just moved into, a definite improvement over the house with the haunted basement we’d lived in previously.

“Higher!  Push me higher!” I cried, laughing with the exhilarating joy that only flying in a swing can bring.

It was just us two: Dick, my mom’s boyfriend, and me, and I was thrilled to have him all to myself. To me, he looked just like the man on my favorite TV-show, Grizzly Adams. For being only 5-years-old, I had a mighty big crush on that man and his bear. Dick had the same wild 70’s hair, bushy beard, and the kindest, most beautiful blue eyes you’ve ever seen.

I don’t know how it came about, but sometime on that idyllic “date” together, I asked a simple question:

“When are you going to be my daddy?”

It wasn’t until years later that I learned how my innocent but sincere question had almost been their undoing.

“HOW could you put her up to that?!” he had demanded, thinking she was using me to get to him.

“How could YOU think I would?!” she’d shot back.

Luckily for all of us, the matter was cleared up, and one day not long after he did become my daddy.

As with most true-life tales, the years were not always easy. There were job changes, a brother added “for me,” years when the bottle called louder than family, frequent moves, diabetes, strokes… The cute little stepdaughter evolved into a ‘tween and then a teen with a heart and mind of her own, certain that she no longer mattered like she once had.

Throught it all, he was always “my dad,” the only one I’d ever known, and I was his “daughter,” but there was a little less connection and more hurt feelings as only a teenage girl can collect. He stopped drinking my senior year and again became the husband and father we’d once known.

He walked me down the aisle – twice – never judging me for my mistakes along the way. He towed vehicle after vehicle I managed to blow up, working long hours to get me up and running yet again during my stint as a single mom. Any hard feelings I’d ever had melted away as he became the world’s absolute best grandpa to my kids and friend to my husband.

Today marks one year – 365 long days – since he left us. In some ways it feels like an eternity and in others just a moment ago.

One year since I’ve looked into those gorgeous blue eyes of his, and even longer since I heard his voice, the emphatic “I love you” he always gave when it was time for me to leave, leaning forward for his hug from the recliner on good days, from his bed on the bad.

We never really talked about the hard years we’d had – each of us too hesitant to dredge up the sometimes painful past, I think – but I know without a doubt that he loved me, and I only hope he knows how much I loved him in return.

I love you, daddy. Thank you so much for accepting my long-ago proposal. Screen Shot 2013-10-07 at 8.53.11 PM

Screen Shot 2013-10-07 at 8.58.23 PM

learning to see

My grandparents, both blind, and I went on a road trip the summer after I got my drivers’ license. Grandma was going to be staying in Boise to train on a machine that could “read” the mail for her. We loaded up the beast and drove, with only one glitch along the way: we blew a tire as we took the final exit. Sure I was to blame, the shuddering, jolting car scared me to death. Like a handler taming a colt, Grandpa calmly taught me how to put on the spare, then helped me find my way through the city’s maze of one-way streets – he was the original GPS with a catalog of in-head maps – to a tire store.

The next day, he and I started the trek back home. The car might have been ugly and big, but it sailed like a yacht on balmy seas. We cruised steadily along as he regaled me with stories. One of my favorites was from his college days when a friend allowed him to drive his car around campus. They piled in and drove all over, Grandpa at the wheel while his friend hovered close, giving instructions. He laughed as he recounted the reaction they got, shaking his head at the memory.

“Let me know if there’s anything you want to stop and look at,” he casually mentioned, about an hour into the drive.

“Really?” I said, thinking to myself, “Yeah, right…”

It had never occurred to me that we could leave our set path. Testing the waters, I mentioned a sign we had just passed announcing a historical site. “It’s about 10 miles out of our way,” I told him, sure he’d tell me to keep driving.

“Let’s go!” he said instead.

It was a beautiful day, sun shining.

We walked the trail, me leading the way as he walked steadily behind me, hand attached to my shoulder, to look at Register Rock, a huge boulder etched with names by pioneers who’d passed through on the Oregon Trail. I read him the historical markers, and then we spent a few minutes resting at a picnic table, enjoying the slight breeze.

There he shared a story with me about his grandfather, normally a hard man, but one who’d shown a soft spot with his young grandson.

“When it became clear that I was going completely blind, he gave me a real treasure: some 8-power binoculars that I could look at things with, encouraging me to appreciate it all. Oh, I carried them with me everywhere, studying everything. When I finally lost my sight, grandfather, ever practical, took them back. Sad as I was to lose them, I was so grateful for the gift that he’d given me, the gift of seeing.”

Summarizing all the things Grandpa taught me is impossible: tips on driving through the winter snow, lessons on ancient Roman engineering, and how to re-cover piano keys (a tedious job but one which taught me to pay attention to detail), among a thousand others.

A timid girl, Grandpa taught me to live and see life as the gift it is: to sing just for the enjoyment it brings (no matter how terrible I am), to let down my guard, to act silly and, most importantly, to treat myself with kindness. More than that, he showed me what unconditional love looks like and that I was, indeed, worthy of it.

To the casual observer watching us walk together it would appear that I was leading a blind man, but in truth, he was the one leading me.

first drivers license

In my exuberance, I slammed the door of mom’s Buick with a little more force than necessary. It was almost eight years old, but it was the newest car we’d ever had, and I was still in shock that Mom had handed me the keys and allowed me to drive the entire way, through snow, on my first day with a license.

Cringing at the sound, I yelled “Sorry, Mom!” as I bounded toward the front door of my grandparents’ home, leaving her and my little brother behind, still fumbling with their seatbelts. I hurried into the house, the cheerful jangling of the bells hanging inside the front door announcing my arrival.

I practically skipped into the kitchen where grandpa was cooking dinner. The aroma of his special ham and rice casserole, my favorite, perfumed the air, and the kitchen was extra cozy thanks to the oven. In the office, grandma was busy on the phone, booking his jobs for the next week.

Grandpa was a piano tuner by trade, with well over 40 years under his skilled fingers. Grandma was his “favorite secretary” and had been booking jobs for him just as long, calling in the evenings when people were home, keeping grandpa informed of her progress while he cooked their meals.

He and grandma also happened to be totally blind.

“This is Mary Collins, the piano tuner’s wife,” she chirped into the phone, snugged in place by the oversized shoulder rest. Confirming the appointment, she deftly slid an index card into the Braille-writer, typing up the details, the distinctive crunch-punch sound of the cardstock filling the room. Hanging up, she called out to grandpa: “Oh goody!  You’ve got another one for Tuesday.”

“Grandpa!  Look what I got!” I said, placing the laminated plastic card in his outstretched hand.

“Well, well… what have we here?” he asked, an air of teasing in his voice as he held the card in one hand and ran a finger from the other around the plastic.

“My driver’s license!” I exclaimed. “I can’t believe I finally got it!”

“I’m proud of you Kewpie,” he said, pulling me in for one of his bear hugs. Kewpie dolls were little bald baby-dolls that were popular when he was a kid; he had labeled me such at birth, and the name stuck even though I was no longer a baby, or bald for that matter. I thought they were ugly little things, but the way he said it made it seem like the greatest compliment ever.

From the office, I heard grandma calling to me: “I want to see!” so off I went to show her too, repeating the entire process. “Just think, Frank,” she called to grandpa. “Now you have a Saturday driver!”  Because of his blindness, he had to employ drivers to ferry him around to all his appointments.

Grandma followed through and managed to regularly schedule us a few jobs several days each month. There were times that I didn’t want to give up my Saturdays, but there weren’t that many ways to earn spending money at that age. Among other things, I needed the money to feed my Q-Bert habit, an arcade game in the Skyline Bowling Alley which officially proclaimed to the world that TLV was “Supreme Noser!” Driving for grandpa would give me a steady income, and it sure beat babysitting the neighbor’s little brats.

This 14-year-old was ready to hit the road!

love is… the little things

love-is

In 6th grade, I loved walking the long block up the hill from my grandparents’ house to that shining beacon –K-Mart! – to spend my babysitting money. I always made sure to have at least a quarter left over to spend in the toy vending machines.

My favorite was the “Love Is” machine, filled with mini posters of the comic that was especially popular in the 80’s. I lined my dresser mirror with their smiling faces and dreamed of having a love like that of my own someday. I was sure that life would be flowers, and chocolates, and long walks in the moonlight. *Insert happy sigh*

Fast forward 30 years or so.

I AM happily married, but as we all find out, life is rarely filled with those moments we grew up reading about or watching in movies. While there WAS a short time that Tom routinely sent me dead flowers, most of our life together has been more of the day-to-day slog with kids, careers, blah, blah, blah.

In other words, REAL LIFE. And honestly, I’d rather have a plate of nachos than chocolates, and if we were to take a walk under the stars either his knee would give out or I’d manage to roll my ankle. Let’s just say that sometimes those romantic dreams seem very far away.

It took many years of marriage for me to realize that Tom IS a romantic – just in his own way. Instead of chocolates I get oil changes, tire rotations, or a quick neck massage, even though his hard-working mechanic hands ache after a long day fighting cars.

This morning, though, he grandly swept me off my feet all over again.

Yesterday, our coffeemaker was plugging up, so I ran vinegar through to de-scale the junk and let it soak overnight. This morning I woke up early so I could run water through to clean out the vinegar and still have time to make my much-needed coffee. I am ridiculously addicted to the Haitian coffee I discovered on my trip last summer, and it’s the only kind I’ve ever found that doesn’t make me sick. Anyway, the stupid machine wasn’t working. No matter what I tried, nothing would come out. ARGGHH!

Finally I gave up and went to get ready for work. We had some generic tea-bag like “coffee singles,” so Tom made one of those for himself while I stomped around the bathroom, muttering under my breath.

“I can make you some coffee,” he offered.

“I’m fine,” I snarled. “Yours will just make me sick. I’ll just suffer.”

Stomp. Stomp. Slam!

In the midst of my stomping and slamming, I managed to knock the curling iron off the counter onto the top of my bare foot. Swearing like a sailor, I wrestled it back into place, but not before inflicting a good size blistering burn.

Fabulous.

In the meantime, Tom high-tailed it out of the room – the chicken!

When I finally emerged, he stood there with a travel mug full of MY coffee, ready to go. He had opened and emptied one of his coffee bags, filled it with mine, wrapped the string around like a noose and nuked it, all just for me! There were LOTS of floating grounds, but it was just what I needed to get my day back on track. Well, until I spilled half of it down my front while climbing into the truck, but that’s another story.

Love is definitely my guy and a cup of chunky coffee… :)