Tuesday, December 31, 2013

One-word Resolution

The wonderful Laura Lippman, author of the Tess Monaghan novels and others, posts that she has a 7-year tradition of setting a one-word resolution for the new year.  (In case you’re curious, as I was, her seven resolutions to date were Stretch, Maintain, Venture, Be, Execute, Repurpose and for 2014, Appreciate.) She challenged readers to come up with their own one-word resolution and after some thought, I have done so. 
My one-word resolution for 2014 is Integrate.  The definitions, from Dictionary.com:

in·te·grate [in-ti-greyt]; verb (used with object), in·te·grat·ed, in·te·grat·ing.
1. to bring together or incorporate (parts) into a whole.
2. to make up, combine, or complete to produce a whole or a larger unit, as parts do.
3. to unite or combine.
So why is that my resolution? 

For as long as I can remember, I’ve had a wide array of interests and because of that, a wide array of different people in my life, often with very different lifestyles.  Being the non-confrontational sort, I don’t have much trouble living peacefully with these different groups.  In fact, I very much value the diversity they bring to my life.  But I often feel that my life is very subdivided, with certain things shared in one place and others shared in another, and never the twain shall meet. For example, it pleases me that I have extreme conservatives and extreme progressives, straights and gays, black and white, Christians of various sorts, Jews, a Moslem and a Druid as well as some who are avidly anti-organized-religion among my Facebook friends, and I quite sincerely “Like” a lot of posts from all, but it creates a real quandary, a second-guessing, when I think about things I might want to post.
Similarly, for the past 20 years or more, I have always felt like various roles that I play in life, while each very important to me, tend toward conflict with each other.  At the very least, they live together in some tension.  Not only does professional life conflict with wife and mother, but sometimes even wife and mother coexist less peacefully than one might think.  To say nothing of the balancing act between mothering my actual son and my added-on son of the past few years. I have a regular “day job” that provides much satisfaction as well as stability, but at the same time I have the strong desire to do more with my writing. So I spend most of my time feeling pulled between competing roles.

Finally, I just had my double-nickel birthday and somehow much more than my 50th birthday, the number brought me up short.  If I let it, it makes me feel old.  Or perhaps more accurately, it makes me acutely aware that I risk becoming old.  I am aware that my body is beginning to impose some limitations but at the same time also keenly aware that the more I do physically, the more I will be able to do and the longer I will be able to do it.  The same is true in my thinking.  One doesn’t live 55 years without amassing a great deal of experience, but it is always a challenge to keep the positive learning and not fall into complacency or become a curmudgeon. And there are still so many new experiences I long to try! So many books to read, so many places to visit!

So my resolution is to integrate.  To try to figure out what actually matters to me and do those things, and those things only. To focus less on my roles and how I will be received by anyone else and more on just doing what seems right and best. To make sure I continue to fill my life with new experiences while also retaining all the lessons learned from the old ones.  To really bring together the various parts of my life into a complete unit, united and whole, at peace with myself. 

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Deborah Crombie Reading Challenge

After a long hiatus, I had already decided it was time to resume blogging.  Now I have a wonderful impetus to move on that resolution.

The blogger JoAnne Isgro at http://litlequeenrules.blogspot.com  has issued a reading challenge for 2014.  She has invited her readers to read (or in my case, re-read) the entire 15-book series of Duncan Kincaid/Gemma James mysteries by Deborah Crombie and comment upon them.  Deborah Crombie has been one of my favorite authors for a long time, so going back and re-reading her entire series will be pure pleasure for me.  I look forward to watching the growth of the characters over time with the omniscient view of one who has already seen many of the twists life will hand them.

I know that series like this one aren't everyone's cup of tea, but they are actually my favorite type of novel.  While I like mysteries because of the enforced structure (you start with a problem and end soon after the mystery is solved) I am drawn to series because in them, unlike some other mysteries, authors really can't cut corners on character development.  If a series is going to be any good, the characters have to be multi-dimensional and they have to grow and change over time in believable ways.  

I don't own the earlier books in this series, so I had ordered the first two from my local library.  They just arrived and are now sitting on my kitchen counter.  I can hardly wait to dive into them!

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Wait: Summer break is here already?

I've taken a little break from blogging. Not by design as much as by being too busy in the whirlwind of everyday life. It seems like the last few months have been an even greater whirlwind than usual. So today is a “catch up on the past few months” post.

In a move that sounds to me like something out of a sitcom, I changed my day job, moving from the Girl Scouts to the Boy Scouts. It was just a career move – there was a higher level position open at the Boy Scouts. I have had a long, close relationship with the Boy Scouts because of Sam's Scouting experience and Bob's long volunteer involvement. The work was very similar. So it seemed like kind of a no-brainer.

But of course, change, even positive change, takes energy. I've been there two months now and am just beginning to feel like I'm getting my head above water. I finally have a pretty good understanding of what needs to be done and what it's going to take to do it. It involved more of a change to my daily schedule than I might have expected, so I've had to learn (and introduce to the family) a new set of routines around dinners, when I'm available to help with things, etc. I travel around the state more than I did before. None of these are negatives, just changes that had to be absorbed and worked through.

Everyone who knows me knows that church choir is my biggest “hobby.” (Somehow that feels like a disrespectful way to refer to it – it seems so much more than that.) In these few months away from the blog, we went through Holy Week, with its five major sung services in eight days, and Confirmation, where we provide special music on a Saturday morning. Along with all the other little dramas that go along with choir – members with dying parents, medical issues of their own, our ongoing saga of “who will be our permanent director.” So while always, always a joy in my life, this has been another big part of the whirlwind as well.

Sam has been home from college for more than a week and except for the fact that he hasn't found a job yet, that transition has gone surprisingly smoothly. I'm thrilled to have him home, but I know many of my friends have had a rough time the summer their child first came home from college. Add to that the fact that Warren had been living here like an only child for the school year, and I was a little nervous. But so far it feels drama free.

Sam is hoping to get a job on a painting crew this summer. I think he likes the fact it doesn't require a lot of waiting on customers: he just has to show up and work hard. He has interviewed, and feels good about his prospects, but until there is an actual job offer, Mom is going to fret. The one he is most wants said they are going to work four 10-hour days a week, and he is really liking the idea of three-day weekends. I'm liking the idea of a summer's worth of full-time income to refill his bank account.

Warren is working full time or very close to it at a new restaurant that opened near our house. I'm almost superstitiously afraid to say this out loud, but since the first of the year he has been doing really well. He had a job at Wendy's and although he didn't much like it, he showed a lot better self-discipline than he used to in continuing to do what he needed to do to not lose the job. He only left it when he landed this job, where he is getting more hours and therefore earning more, plus tips, and actually doesn't mind the work. He's doing better at home, too. I feel like he took a sudden spurt of maturing. He seems to be trying much harder to be considerate, and is actually thinking about his future beyond just what he needs to get through the day. As I said, I'm almost afraid to say anything lest I jinx it.

And of course, Bob proceeds steadily and full of good humor, as always.  Very busy with all his Boy Scout and church volunteer work.  Very happy that his golf league has resumed.  Feeling somewhat thwarted and unappreciated at his work, but still grateful to be employed. He and I are looking forward to outdoor fun.

Overall, it feels like we are set up for a good summer, though one unlike any we have experienced before. That should generate plenty of fodder for the blog!

Sunday, March 24, 2013

I am so excited about Pope Francis!

I've been so busy lately that I just haven't had the energy to blog. But instead of writing about any of those things making me busy, now that I have a few minutes, I prefer to write about Pope Francis.

As the conclave of cardinals was setting up, Bob and I watched with sort of cynical interest. We read the analyses and followed the handicapping and figured some Italian cardinal who was a good administrator would be elected pope. If we were lucky, he would clean out some of the people who had led to the scandals in the Church. If we weren't, he would move the the Church even further to the conservative side, making the changes implemented after Vatican II more and more impotent.

Instead, the conclave did something unexpected. They elected a cardinal from Buenos Aires, Argentina. A cardinal who was best known for his humility and simple lifestyle. And he did a bunch of surprising things. He took the name Pope Francis, when there has never been a Pope Francis before. (And no, major media outlets, that doesn't make him Pope Francis I. He will be known as “the first” in retrospect when and if there is a Pope Francis II.) He declined to sit upon a throne and accept the tribute of the other cardinals, preferring to stand at their level and greet them each that way. When he made his first public appearance, he asked the assembled faithful at St. Peter's to pray for him. He chose not to take the papal limousine back to his quarters for the night, opting to ride the bust with the other cardinals. He stopped on his way back the next morning to pay the bill at the place he had stayed in the days leading up to the conclave.

And he continues to surprise. For example, instead of performing the traditional washing of the feet at St. Peter's or the main parish church there in Rome, he is going to a juvenile detention center to wash the feet of those incarcerated. He personally called the owner of the kiosk back in Argentina, where he used to buy his daily paper, to cancel his paper order.

I am not naive. I don't think this pope is going to be the one who makes the big doctrinal changes in the church that many liberals hope for. He's not going to begin to ordain women, or even married men. He won't change the church's stance on homosexuality. He is fairly conservative in his beliefs and he won't be the one who makes any of those changes. But no one else who was realistically likely to be elected was, either. Those changes were not in the cards for this papacy. Period. 

But I think this pope may make changes that have far reaching effects. This is a man who views his papacy...his ministry.....probably the entire world …..in the context of the beatitudes. He is someone who believes in simplicity, in meekness, in mercy; Who has lived his life dedicated to these concepts and trying to integrate them into his own life. And I am naive enough.....or idealistic enough....to believe that this world view can make a powerful difference. I can't wait to see what new examples he presents us, and how that mindset affects the decisions he makes. I actually dare to hope that this pope could be such an example of the Christian life that he inspires Catholics and non-Catholics to think about their faith and how it affects their life in a new way.

It's like we've been given an Easter gift. Alleluia!

Monday, February 18, 2013

Risky, but Right

Friday night Warren told us that a friend of his was getting kicked out of the place she'd been living and had nowhere to go, and asked if she could stay with us for a few days while she sorted it out. This was not the first time something like this has happened. Between the fact that Warren has a lot of friends from more precarious circumstances than himself and the fact that he actually has a very soft heart, we have had extra kids here at various times. She is at least the third to stay here short-term to avoid imminent  homelessness, and if I thought longer I might recall more. So much so, in fact, that when I talked to Sam on the phone and mentioned it he said, “Mom, you do realize you're not running a youth hostel, right?”

It's not always easy. People in situations like this usually need help with transportation. They need to eat. They need to take showers, and to sleep somewhere. When the someone is female, logistics are even more complicated. And of course, there's the nagging concern about security. Is this person as he or she seems? Is it safe having him or her here in my house, or are we going to come home one day to find all our valuables gone?

This young lady actually ended up staying with us only two days and one night.  She left last night to re-enter the uncertain life she knows.  She was really very sweet and I wish we could have done something to make a more lasting impact on her life.

But the real point of this post is, I'm so glad I didn't follow my first instinct and say no.  That would have been safer; by almost any standard, wiser. But I've spent most of my life living my Christian mission more in theory than practice, sending money without getting my hands dirty.  Lately I have felt like God wants to disturb my status quo a little more than that.

The other reason I'm glad I didn't say no was that it was actually a delight to see how kind Warren was to her while she was with us.  I had suspected, frankly, that he wanted her here because he thought it a convenient set-up to hit on her.  His behavior humbled me and made me feel bad for even thinking that.  He was kind and respectful.  Definitely treated her more like a little sister than a dating prospect. It was a pleasant reminder of why we invited him to live with us in the first place. He can sometimes frustrate and annoy, but there's a really good heart in that young man!

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Old friendship: a rare and precious treasure

Yesterday a dear friend posted pictures that included me from a party we attended 30 years ago. While it was a blast seeing all those faces, it really made me stop to appreciate the fact that she and I have been friends for that long. A thirty year friendship is a rare and precious thing.

I don't have a lot of long-term friends. At the risk of sounding whiny, I partly blame my upbringing. We were rather nomadic, moving enough times that when I started 9th grade it was my 10th school. I learned a lot of good coping skills through that experience, but what I didn't learn was the value of holding onto friends. Apparently it wasn't something my parents put much stock in, either, because I didn't grow up seeing them keep in touch with any old friends.

At any rate, I drifted through childhood and into young adulthood with a kind of “love the ones you're with” approach to friendship. I almost always had friends wherever I was, but if life moved me on down the road, I didn't stay in touch with the old friends. Prior to the advent of Facebook with its power to reunite old classmates and the like, I had stayed loosely in touch with only two high school friends. I had not managed to maintain ANY of my college friendships. I still have no contact with anyone from graduate school. 

 My wonderful friend who posted the picture (and her husband, an equally close friend) came into my life around the grad school era, but as classmates of my first husband. We all shared a house during their last year of school. Ironically while my marriage didn't last, the friendship did. She later served as a bridesmaid in my wedding with Bob and while we don't get to see each other face to face very often, when we do it is always like picking up where the previous visit left off.

Apparently, I didn't begin to put down roots in friendships in any big way until I entered the working world. I do have at least a few friends who date back to my first post-grad school job. And each phase of my life after that seems to have generated some lasting friendships. Admittedly, each later phase is closer in time, so there hasn't been as long to lose touch with people. But my experience has been that I lost touch almost right away, because I used to not understand that friendship was worth holding on to.

It has been a big delight to reconnect with a lot of high school classmates and a few college ones through Facebook. The thing I have really enjoyed is seeing how the things that seemed so divisive in high school just don't matter now. A lot of the people I now interact with frequently were only casual acquaintances then. They moved in different circles and in high school, those social roles mattered. Now, we've all lived through enough that we are who we are. If who we've become clicks, we pick up the friendship. In some cases it is a renewing of something that was always there, in others it is like finding unexpected treasure.  

Friday, February 15, 2013

Lent? But it was just Christmas a minute ago!

Our church life has been yet another aspect of our lives adding interesting dimensions lately. In early January it was announced that a new pastor has been named to serve our parish, but he won’t start with us until March 5. Though no one I know is closely familiar with our new priest, the general scuttlebutt we hear about him is good. So hopes are up. Meanwhile, we won't hire a new music director until the new pastor is here to lead the effort. Fortunately our interim director, Paula, is doing a fine job and seems to be retaining her sanity fairly well.

A few years ago our parish went away from electing the parish council that advises the Pastor to drawing names of willing people out of a hat. (I believe the thinking was that in a parish as large as ours, voting yields only the highest name recognition, not necessarily any other characteristic.) Last year Bob was drawn as 2nd alternate, so he felt like he had dodged the bullet, so to speak. But now the second person this year has resigned, and his name was called. He is already so overextended with Boy Scout volunteering that he wasn’t at all sure he could take this on. We discussed it and realized that now that Sam is off at college, I would probably actually enjoy taking on more of a leadership role at church. So we asked if I could take his place, and I am now a member of parish council. I have attended only one meeting so far, so I don’t yet have much of an opinion about it.

And now Lent has begun. For us that is a busy, intense time in the church. We started with special services on Ash Wednesday, and there will be special components in our Masses each Sunday. Many of us adopt some sort of Lenten discipline to help further focus us on listening to God during this time. At our parish, there is also a weekly fish fry put on by the Knights of Columbus, but drawing additional serving staff each week from a different organization. It’s a lovely way to enjoy fellowship with others in the church.

For Catholics Lent ends with what we call the Triduum. This is one long worship service celebrated in three sections over three days. It starts on Holy Thursday with a focus on the Last Supper; resumes on Good Friday with a commemoration of the suffering and death of Jesus on the cross; and it ends late Saturday night at the Easter Vigil, where we celebrate the rising of Jesus from the dead. This three-day service is a great time to be a choir member, as we do lots of special, interesting music. But of course, getting from here to there also means a heavy rehearsal schedule.

Some of you who have followed me in years past know that I have often done a separate Lenten blog as my Lenten discipline. I have opted not to do that this year, partly because this year I was really moved by the words of Matthew 6:6: "When you pray, go to your inner room, close the door, and pray to your Father in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will repay you." And honestly, it just didn't feel right for me this year, whereas in those previous years, it felt absolutely right, and probably was the right thing to do then. So I've undertaken a private discipline this time instead. But even though daily blogging isn't my Lenten discipline this time, I am hoping I can keep up the recent trend of more frequent posts in this blog through Lent and beyond.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

A Mother's Heart Goes On and On

I noted last night that there has actually been a lot going on in our lives, so it is time I start writing about some of it. Tonight, we update on my mother's health issues.

For the past several months, my mom has had bouts of two different problems. One is that she has had unexplained blackouts. She didn't always completely pass out, but she would more or less lose consciousness, become uncommunicative, and have no recall of it when she came back. First it was diagnosed as mini-strokes. Then when she had a worse one that landed her in the hospital, they suggested that it was actually seizures and put her on seizure medicine.

The second problem was increasingly severe abdominal pains. They had gotten to the point where she would be doubled over and screaming in pain. And really, my mom is not the demonstrative type. She doesn't scream. Between the two issues, she has had several hospitalizations, including I think three in a month's time.

Just over a week ago she was again rushed to the hospital, exhibiting both problems. But what proved to be different was that this time, the squad got there faster, so they ran a tape on her heart while she was in the worst of the problem. And it revealed that in fact, Mom's heart had STOPPED! Now the cardiologist says that he doesn't believe she ever had mini-strokes or seizures – that this has been the problem all along. A pacemaker was installed a week ago tomorrow, and she seems much better.

The abdominal pain, apparently, was from kidney infection that had escalated to near kidney failure. And the kidney infection was caused, we're told, by the assorted doctors who were treating her having over-prescribed to the point that they were poisoning her kidneys. So all her meds are being re-evaluated and adjusted.

Now Mom is at a nursing facility for two weeks of therapy and rehab before she returns home. On the one hand, it really highlights how little, old and frail my mom has become. She is 88 years old. She is in many ways a shadow of her former self. We are only given a limited time on this earth, and 88 years has to be nearing the extent of that. On the other hand, it is clear that the pacemaker and the nursing home are making a difference. She seems stronger than she has been in a while. It is looking like she might be able to go home, resume her daily activities and enjoy life as she knows it a while longer.

I've asked all my friends to pray for her, and I appreciate the many kind words I have heard in response. I continue to request those prayers. Everything logical tells me she is living on borrowed time, but I hope she and those of us who love her can manage to enjoy every day of that time.  

Monday, February 11, 2013

We Are Family

Over dinner tonight, Bob pointed out that we have had a lot of excitement and drama in our lives lately. And it struck me that he is absolutely right.....so why haven't I been writing?

One of the biggest, most dramatic events of the past few weeks was a death close to us. My Facebook friends have seen a lot of this already, but wow, it was an emotional experience.

For the past 18 years, I sang in the choir with Chris. For about the last ten years, I have sat right next to Chris. Every Wednesday night and Sunday morning, she was the person I relied on, joked around with, and got to know a little better than other people.

One Wednesday, it was just like always. Chris mentioned to me that she was seeing a doctor in the next few days and was concerned. She was a Type I diabetic and she had a wound on a toe that wasn't healing. That had her really concerned. Almost like an afterthought, she added that also, she was bruising. She said under her clothes it looked “like someone had beaten the crap out of” her. By the next Wednesday, we were praying for her soul, since life support was removed that afternoon and we didn't yet know whether she had survived the evening. (It turned out she was a fighter to the end: she didn't pass until 1:00 Friday morning.)

The bruising, it turns out, was because she had an aggressive leukemia. When the doctor saw her blood work he sent her directly to the hospital. They were supposed to do a bone marrow test, but before they could get to it, her brain began to bleed. They put her into a medically induced coma and cut her skull to remove the pressure on her brain. By Wednesday, her family made the difficult decision that Chris as we knew her was already gone and could never come back, and had the life support removed.

Chris was a person who had led a difficult life. All of us in the choir knew this, though she wasn't a complainer. In fact, quite the opposite. Chris was grateful for every positive thing that came her way and was always quick to offer a helping hand. She was a quiet, unassuming person with a wicked wit and a very generous heart. She did lots of things behind the scenes so quietly that none of us were aware of everything she did. Her absence from the choir is like a gaping, open wound. It has been really, really tough for us all.

In fact I would say that the only silver lining I can find in this tragedy is that this experience has made all of us in the choir stop and notice how much we mean to each other. We spend, on average, at least four hours a week together, sometimes more. Working together to a common goal. Often under emotionally charged circumstances. We laugh together, but we also pray together and sometimes, like this week, cry together. That's more time than most of us get to log with our siblings and other extended families. The loss of Chris has really focused us on the fact that we are, truly, a family too.