Monday, December 21, 2009

Lightening it up a bit

So Olivia and I are reconnecting. And that is awesome. I have missed this girl immensely over the last few weeks, and I have--more than once--felt very guilty for running all over creation trying to keep up with schedules while she has been hanging out with Baba and Gramps, Papa and Mimi, Nana and Grandpa, daycare and babysitters. So last night we started our very own Christmas break. We went shopping, came home and ate dinner and played with her new toys. Then we got into our pj's and watched Mickey's Christmas Carol and ate popcorn. It was awesome. This kid loves some popcorn. I let her stay up extremely late, and subsequently learned the trick to getting her to sleep in on Saturday mornings...then back to the routine today - daycare and work, and home again. I made chili for us (recipe below - I'm very proud) and now she's eating ice cream and watching Mickey's Christmas Carol.......again. I don't mind a little repetition. She's always tired on Monday nights - a full day back at daycare after the weekend wears her out, even if the weekend was full of activity.

I love these times - relaxed, simple, sweet. I haven't been able to cook for us very much lately, so I'm loving making dinner for us, even if I can only do it one more night before our schedule kicks back up and we head into the LR for various gatherings. Tonight I made turkey chili. I have a hard time getting this little girl to eat meat, but she will tear some chili up. I've been wanting to try it completely from scratch for a while now, so I went for it. I have to say, the result was quite satisfactory -- her empty bowl sits on the kitchen counter as proof. Here's the recipe:

Andrea’s take on Chili…

2 tablespoons butter
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
5 cloves garlic, chopped
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons chili powder
1 teaspoon dried oregano
½ teaspoon paprika
1 can tomato paste
1 can chopped green chiles
1 pound ground turkey
1 (12-ounce) Mexican lager-style beer
1 (14 1/2-ounce) can diced tomatoes
1 (15 1/2-ounce) can black beans, rinsed and drained

Heat the butter in a large, heavy skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onion, garlic, salt, chili powder, oregano and paprika and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 3 minutes. Stir in the tomato paste and the green chiles; cook 1 minute more. Add the turkey, breaking it up with a wooden spoon, and cook until the meat loses its raw color, about 3 minutes. Add the beer and simmer until reduced by about half, about 8 minutes. Add the tomatoes along with their juices and the beans; bring to a boil. Cook, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until thick, about 10 minutes.

Notes: This is perfect for young children because it has a decently smoky flavor without being too spicy for them. For more spice, add a chopped chile en adobo, with about 1 tbsp of its juice, or a couple tbsp of diced jalepeno. You could also just add ground cayenne.

Friday, December 18, 2009

The Unexpected

Olivia and I were stranded in Kroger tonight. Their POS system had crashed, and it took them about an hour to get it back online. In other words - no checkout lines were working for an hour. The Friday night before Christmas week. For whatever reason, though, I just didn't feel like getting bent about it. So we played patty cake and sang the Itsy Bitsy Spider and the ABC song. I looked at People magazine and she looked at a book about cookies. Then she ate a cookie. She entertained some of our fellow shoppers, who in turn tried to entertain me. Very sweet of them. They finally managed to get things up and running again, we paid and left, and that was that. Or was it?

You know, as soon as I saw what was going on, my first thought was: alright. Let's hit up the Kroger in the Heights. But I had a basket full of stuff - really, really random stuff - and I honestly would have rather waited in line than walked all over another Kroger looking for all that junk. Lots of people abandoned their shopping carts and left. Those poor clerks are probably still putting Cheerios and green beans and loaves of bread back on the shelves. But I stood and waited. And because I had chosen to wait, I think I unknowingly chose to be happy about it. I say unknowingly because this has been a taxing week, and today especially left my brain in a world of hurt. Under such circumstances, my normal response is crankiness. But you know, that takes a lot of energy. Thank goodness for fatigue and its ability to flip the cranky switch right back off.

As we were leaving the parking lot, I looked at the time on the clock in my truck, and I figured up where I would be in the process if I had gone to the Heights Kroger. I would have just then been checking out probably. With lines that were just as long, even if they were moving, and then I would have had to drive back to Leawood. So I came out on top, in both time and money (they gave everyone who hung in there a discount).

And so I'm thinking about all of that. About waiting, and being patient, and being content in the meantime. And I think part of the challenge of being content in the meantime is not seeing the meantime as, well, the meantime. I was so happy that I had waited, and that's partly because I was happy while I waited. It would have been far more difficult to walk out of there relieved and contented if I had been a stinker about it. Those kinds of negative emotions can just really be hard to shake, you know? What's more, I would have missed out on some very real blessings if I had chosen not to wait, mainly in the form of time with my daughter. Oh, for the courage to apply this principle on a much grander scale...

So I came back to Mom's. I made my new holiday tradition: homemade Irish cream liqueur. Incredibly excited about that. Finished everyone's Christmas presents (the 4th annual Christmas cookie bakeoff starts tomorrow a.m.), helped Mom get the tree done (down with the ting ting...) and just enjoyed being with Mom/Charlie, Rachel/Jeff and my baby girl. What a blessing tonight has been. Now if only I can remember all of my lines and blocking in dress rehearsal tomorrow......

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Let it be

The December issue of La Cucina Italiana lies on the floor, completely unread. My kitchen is a barely bearable mess. I just hung up roughly 25 articles of clothing, and there are three more loads of laundry at various stages of the washing/drying/folding/hanging process. My Christmas tree probably needs water, there is a random folding chair in my living room from, I think, a week ago that is driving me bonkers to look at, every floor in this entire house needs to be cleaned, and I can’t find my favorite grey wool trousers.

And this…is our life.

Tonight was date night for me and the Livster. I picked her up from school, and we hit up Target. A little Christmas shopping, a little restocking our home. Then we headed back towards the house. I was just about exhausted, and I really just wanted to get in the house and get comfy. But I had already told her that we would go out to dinner. Now, I know that she’s only 2, but this kid remembers things. So I decided to test it out. I drove past our favorite little hole-in-the-wall down the street from our house, and sure enough, from the backseat I hear: “Eat!” So we went in and had dinner. A — thankfully — relatively uneventful dinner (except for some spilled milk and one minor cry-fit) and we were ready to get to the house.

We came in and opened a Christmas box (her name for our Advent calendar), she watched some Dr. Seuss, colored on books that she probably shouldn’t have colored on, tried to get me to play ring-around-the-rosies (Mommy gets dizzy, y’all), washed her hands, brushed her teeth, laughed, climbed, ran, made mischief, and just generally reminded me of the fact that nights like this ought to not be the exception rather than the rule.

I’m looking forward to a slower pace after this weekend.

I have really struggled to reframe Christmas this year – to eek some joy out of it, get into the spirit, feel warm and glowy and benevolent, you know, all that jazz. The last Christmas that I felt this absolutely icky was in 2006. I would find out that I was pregnant three days after Christmas Day. I had gone through a surprisingly painful breakup that October, and I really think it left me a little angry, so naturally all of that pain had to go somewhere (thank you, Martina McBride)…it went into skinny jeans and late nights and Damien Rice and downtown. I really just can’t even talk about how I really and truly felt right then. It is just that private, and so very few people know exactly what was going on during that time. But I ended up pregnant. And the next two Christmases were great. In 2007, Livi had just been born, so I was loving all of the shopping and planning and scheming…for a 3 month-old…that goes along with baby’s first Christmas. Last year, I was dating Bo, and everything seemed so perfect and wonderful, plus we were living in the Cove, and I had just taken the job at AREC, so there was all of that newness and excitement to keep my sleigh in the air. But this year? This year.

This year has kind of sucked.

And I don’t even feel like explaining myself on that one. Just suffice it to say: it’s been a hard one. But then I feel like such a jerk for not being able to say: but grace has prevailed. Even though it has, it’s almost like it’s done so in spite of all of my best efforts. Lately I’m astonished at just how much God takes care of me, despite my own hard-headedness, my questioning, my flightiness, my…buoyancy. Ouch. So I am releasing myself from this burden of guilt for not swinging from the rafters just because that’s what you’re supposed to do this time of year. Am I grateful that the Word became flesh and dwelt among us? You had better stinking believe it. But when you’re identifying more with the sinner and less with the saint, it can be a little difficult to put your hands on just a whole lot of that grateful joy. It’s more of a sober, humble, solemn gratitude and petition for betterness. Like the man in the temple who cried out for God to have mercy on him, a sinner, while the Pharisee beside him was thanking God that he was not like other men. (And God was up there thinking: I wish you were!!)

So that's where I am right this second. And maybe, in a few days, I'll be somewhere else. I've got some thinking to do about Mary. And I have a feeling that's going to swing a door or two wide open.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009


Take this soul, stranded in some skin and bones. Take this soul, and make it sing.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

I find sometimes it's easy to be myself... much to say.

This month has already been nutty. Just plain nutty. And that's no one's fault but my own. I have overbooked us, and it is insanity. So all of this month's craziness (and it's only the 16th), plus next month's trips to Oregon and Miami = Mommy is grounded for the rest of the month. Well, provisionally anyway.

The first week of this month was mentally taxing because of what we had going on at work. The second week was physically and mentally taxing because of how much I have scheduled for us and the realization of just how much more I have scheduled for us this fall. (Plus, there was Olivia's birthday party and the gas nozzle-to-the-toe incident. If you've not heard that story, oh, do please ask.) The third week (this week) has been emotionally taxing because I am me. And that's all.

Today was Olivia's last day at DS. She's been there since she was three months old. When I enrolled her, I was living and working in West Little Rock, so it just made sense. When I took the job downtown, I was still living out west, in fact, we had moved into a house less than 2 miles from the center, so it still made sense. But when we bought the house out here...well. I knew it didn't make sense, but I also didn't think it was fair to introduce that many changes to her all at once - bye bye to the Cove house, hello to a new house *and* hello to a new daycare? No. I just refused to do it. And I refused to even think about doing it. Until about a month ago when I was promoted and feeling the need to be at work at o-dark-thirty to start getting everything done, and I was fighting three interstates worth of traffic just to get there by eight. Plus, there's this spot...on 430...where she starts to cry and/or fuss, just about every day. Like clockwork. So I figured...maybe it's time to make a change. So I have. Tomorrow she'll stay with Aunt Rachel. Friday she's hanging out with Baba, who's going to take her for a visit to her new center, and then on Monday, she'll go in for her first real day. Naturally it will be a half day - I've arranged to be off that afternoon. I'm just trying to minimize separation anxiety on every level possible...and the critical voice in the back of my head says that I'm failing. Normally, I would analyze all of the different ways to do this and come to a complete and total stall - no decision, no progress, just stall. Good old PBA. But for some reason, where she is concerned, I find myself capable of making resolute decisions and sticking to them. Even if they scare the fool out of me. Maybe that's grace.

I brought home a folder full of server specs and system requirements and service contract quotes that I really need to be reviewing before tomorrow morning's meeting. And I will. When I get to work early because Aunt Rachel is coming here to watch Livi in the morning. Bliss! I started really looking at them on Tuesday - not ideal, since I was not even in the office - and it began this entire thought process on cost-benefit analysis that I cannot get out of my head. If I am not careful, I will begin to think in grids and spreadsheets and disconnected prose. Still, I just can't stop thinking about how blessed I am to be working where I am, with and for the people I am. Bad sentence, I know. Especially for someone who keys off of the relational aspect of the workplace as heavily as I do, this setup offers some pretty solid results. Qualitatively, too. That point must definitely be made.

So today when we got home, part of my garden had crashed. I have these raised beds in front of my house that have a slate rock curtain. The builder put in impatiens and these blueish bush thingies that I don't like, and I also planted some zinnias in there earlier this summer. Well, the slate rock curtain was d-o-w-n down in the front on the north side. My first thought was: blasted deer. So we parked the truck and I got out to look - no hoof prints. There should be hoof prints, right? I mean, you would think. But none. Instead, just this massive mound of dirt and I realized...all this rain. The drainage is poor, and the rain must have just overwhelmed the bed and busted the curtain. So I called my builder and arranged for him to come fix it up. Gotta love that warranty. By this point, though, I was done. Today was just a little on the iffy side, so I went ahead and let it swing all the way to the right. I rolled up my jeans, kicked off my satin ballet flats, stripped down to the tank top and sat on the porch with Olivia. She had milk and I had wine. At one point I think she tried to convince me that it was okay for her to poo in the backyard. Potty-training is not going that well, obviously. But she just ran around back there, got mud all over her jeans, and we just ignored everything but each other and the big ball-shaped things that are falling from my trees. I do not know what they are.

Today, a woman in my training class said something about me being happily married. It was odd. I thought, I don't wear a ring...I don't talk about my husband.... So I just smiled and told her that I'm single. She stammered and seemed a little confused, and I told her that I do have a daughter, and that it's just me and her. It really didn't bother me. I just thought it was interesting. There is another lady at work that seems to think that I'm divorced and just don't want to talk about it.

Shortly after discovering the leaning tower of impatiens in my front yard, I started checking on all of my zinnias. I have a tree ring near the driveway that is boasting one extraordinary giant African violet that was just getting ready to bloom. It bloomed alright. And promptly fell. No idea why. Maybe the rain. Maybe the giant deer who was escaping, hoof print-less, after barreling through my garden like the fricking demolition derby. No clue. But it was laid flat. I really wanted to cry. I love that zinnia, and I have been watching it literally every day since it started to bud. Thankfully, there was another plant nearby, so I was able to reinforce the roots a little and sturdy it up by leaning it on the zinnia next to it, and we'll see if that works or not. I have one other giant that's getting ready to bloom, so I went to look at it, and I got really close and was looking at the bud and the stem and soil and all that stuff. Well, Livi must have been watching me pretty closely, because she started running around and looking at all of our zinnias. She would bend down and really stare at them. So precious. I couldn't help but look at her and think - I am so happily daughtered.

This life is more than enough for us. I am lucky to have a life so full that it bursts at the seams - that the slate rock wall sometimes just can't hold everything we try to cram into it - all of the rich, earthy goodness and beauty - and even the cement holding the rocks together busts loose and everything spills onto the yard. It is such a beautiful mess. Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

I'm Here for the Party...

Today I interviewed a job applicant who was telling me about her lazy co-worker, and she said, "You know, I'm here to work." I literally stopped, wrote it down, and thought: Blog #2 in the Why I Work series. Then I finished her interview and, of course, the day, which was, by the way, brutal. Brutal. But that's not what I'm here to discuss.

I've interviewed so many people, talked to so many people about their jobs, and almost 80% of the time, when you ask them how they deal with stress, crises, etc., in the workplace, they will say, "I don't let it get to me, you know, I'm just here to work..." That phrase literally thumped me on the nose today. I've explained why I work - to have a better life. But my question is now: What am I here to do?

Quite honestly, I'm here to enjoy myself. When I have found myself in the job market, I have never been content to find 'just a job'. I have always looked for something I could enjoy, something I would like. And I like what I do now. I have a big job ahead of me. Huge, even. But I like it. So that's one reason that I'm there.

Next, I'm here to make a difference. It is trite, but for me, it is true. See, I have been miserable in a job before. Usually my level of misery was directly influenced by my manager/supervisor/boss. Of all my leadership goals, perhaps one of the most central is a desire to create a positive, encouraging work environment for my employees. I want to be the boyfriend who buys you roses for no reason after two years with some dude who forgot your birthdays, Valentine's Day and Christmas. I don't want to do this because I am a saint. I want to do this because I want to be good at what I do. If I am good at what I do (leading people), then my success will grow. Next, I want to hire good employees, and then I want them to stay. It makes my life easier when they stay because I do not have to spend time hiring and training new employees. Finally, I want my employees to like working for me. I want them to say, "Now, she is a good boss." It's interesting, and not at all surprising, that even within this desire to create a positive environment for my employees, there exists a set of subdesires serving my needs alone. I am such a selfish creature.

I'm here to use what I know. When I learn something, I'm not content to just throw it on the shelf. I want to use it...teach it...hone has to remain a fluid process for me, or I see no point in learning the thing in the first place. One of the most gratifying ways that I use what I know is in teaching and training positions. Perhaps that is why I always gravitate to positions of leadership. Well, it's one of the reasons, at least.

I feel like there is maybe another 'Why I'm Here' or two, but this is what I've got for now. And it is, of course, open for discussion.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Ignorance is Anything but Bliss

I hate not knowing something.

As a result, this week is presenting a myriad of challenges, all of such depth and magnitude that I am left staring at the calendar and asking myself if it is really only Wednesday.

To begin, we are still driving - well, I am driving and Olivia is riding - from Sherwood to West Little Rock to downtown each morning, and then, of course, in reverse - well, not in reverse gear, perhaps in reverse fashion - every afternoon. It is wearing me out. O-U-T. I promised myself when we bought this house that I would try it out for a month. My heart just broke to think of moving Livi from her wonderful Kaykee. After two months of scrambling to get out the door on time, fighting with a still sleepy toddler to get in her carseat, and navigating my way through traffic that is almost never pleasant, my heart no longer breaks to think of Livi leaving Kaykee. And I'm pretty sure that no one on 430 is going to miss me, either. So I visited another center today, and as I drove up to it, I thought - I am an idiot. This place is five miles from my house, and eight miles from my office. My house, by the way, is 13 miles from my office. You do the math. How - how??? - did this escape me for two months? It is a wonderful center - big, huge picture windows in the classrooms, at least six thousand shade trees, a very rustic camp-y feel to the building, and all the kids were smiling and happy and showing me their bellies. Plus, they are very learning-based, much like a Montessori school. So I basically enrolled her right then and there. But now, the question is - when do I move her? I think it should be a Monday, but maybe a Friday is best? Give her a day there, maybe even a short day, then give her the weekend to process, then head back on Monday, full swing. But I've got trainings almost back to back in the next two weeks, so my ability to be flexible is fairly limited until after those wrap up. Which means we have to wait a tad longer than I'm comfortable with waiting to move her, but maybe that is best. And then I wonder - am I even doing the right thing by moving her? It's funny...sometimes I really want to bounce these things off of someone, so I usually choose my mom, but at the same time, I am so strong-willed that I want to know that I've done it all myself. Odd how that works.

I headed back to the office today, fully expecting our database management system/web application to be on its way to restoration. Long story, essentially two weeks after a version upgrade, the sky has begun to fall. Our two vendors are somewhat gridlocked on what the actual issue is - whether application-based, or hardware-based. So I suggest to one vendor that we move the entire system - application and hardware - to his location, set up a test environment and see what we end up with. If system performance improves, we have a hardware issue. Right? In the meantime, the application crashes completely. So vendors A and B conference and then call me to tell me that they have decided to move the entire system - application and hardware - to vendor A's location, set up a test environment and see what we end up with. Thanks fellas. Vendor B asks me to visit their location and run the application on their system to eliminate the possibility of an in-house networking issue (i.e., fault within my agency's wires/flips/switches/routers), so I head over and the whole thing actually works less well than it is working in my building. I breathe one very major sigh of relief that I will not be having to rewire our entire building. And then we wait. And we wait. And we wait some more. I am still waiting. It is so frustrating for me to not know how to fix this. It is actually less frustrating that my vendors seem to be having a hard time fixing it. I'd really just like to be able to do it myself. And the fact that I am so weak in this area is just a major inconvenience.

So I decided to go ahead and attend the state technology meeting this afternoon, since there didn't seem to be anything I could do at the office. First presentation: Chief Security Officer just back from DEFCON(r) conference in Vegas, talking about digital signatures vs. electronic signatures and PKIs and CAs and oh my gosh. Just as my brain is beginning to catch up with his presentation, he sits down and some guy gets up and starts talking about encryption algorithms. And this - THIS - is where I become a bottom-line person. I don't want to know about it - I don't want to see it - I don't want to make a decision about it. I want to tell you what I need, and I want you to deploy my solution. At the same time...I feel responsible for knowing about, seeing, making a decision about these things now. So I hung on for as long as I could and jotted down a note to google "encryption for dummies" later on.

In the middle of all of this, I'm seeing e-mails go back and forth across my phone where 1, 2 and 3 complex and individual attempts are made at restoring our application's performance, and all have failed. So I'm back in the truck and back to the office, where I am able to do a minimal amount of troubleshooting before handing everything back over to my vendors, so I can wait for them to reach resolution. Still. I want to be able to look at all of this and know what the problem is, and it is driving me crazy that I cannot. My brain is like a Maglite when what this issue needs is a full-on flood - you know, like the ones they use to make it look like daytime in a football stadium at night.

So I came home and shut the Maglite off. Made dinner for me and the babe, then Pops picked her up and took her shopping so I could get some things done around here. Livi and I were sitting on the couch, about to get her ready for bed, and we were going over her numbers. When we got to three, she wouldn't say anything. She would stare at the number, furrow her brow a little, and then get this almost scared look on her face, and I realized - it's the "th" sound, followed by the "r" sound - she doesn't use those sounds right now. She literally does not know how to form them. So I made her look at me, and I showed her how to "thhhh". Which was, of course, very funny. We practiced "thhhhh"-ing for a little while, then we went back to the number 3, and I asked her to say it again. This time, she managed to get out a very whispery "thhhee". It was so tentative; so obvious that she was unsure of herself, that she knew she was in uncharted territory. Yet, I could not have been prouder of her. Because she tried, and she was brave, and because she is my daughter and I love the absolute fool out of her.

So tomorrow, I will make our crazy drive, and I will wait for my vendors to fix my database and web app, and I will try to remember that it is okay if there is something I just don't know, if I can't speak words because I don't even know how to make their sounds. And then I'll just sound it out.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

When the Whistle Blows...

So the question was raised, recently, "Why do you work?"

My first response, instinctively, was, "Because I have to." But something about that answer wouldn't really settle in, and it has continued to nag at me for the last several weeks. I just kept thinking: there has to be more to it. And I have concluded that there is. So here goes.

I do not have to work. I choose to work. Most people, upon hearing that, would automatically assume: trust fund, inheritance, independent wealth, etc. But none of those things are the reasons why I do not have to work. See, if I chose not to work, I could probably collect enough public assistance to survive. I could get food stamps, housing vouchers and welfare benefits. I could shop at Goodwill. I could solicit much-needed items in the name of charity. I could actually probably have all of my basic needs met and then some. So I don't work because I have to work. I work because I want to work. Perhaps a better question would be: why do I want to work?

Simply put, to have a better life. There are several areas of my life that are made better, or enriched, because I work. Because I work, I am able to afford my vehicle - a vehicle that suits our needs, that is reliable, but also that I like. Because I work, I am able to afford my house - a house that I am completely in love with, a house that is an investment. Because I work, I am able to afford cute clothes for Livi (and myself), the food that we want to eat, the things that we want to do, the books that we want to read, et cetera, et cetera.

My work enriches my sense of accomplishment, of usefulness. I enjoy what I do. I love being in leadership, I love innovating, analyzing, creating, producing. Love it. I get to do that in a relatively low-stress setting, working for two men that I respect, who in turn respect me and treat me well. I do not feel as though I am being held against my will 40+ hours a week, even if I would occasionally like to be elsewhere (that, by the way, is completely normal).

My work teaches me. It grows me, stretches me, shows me where I am lacking and ideally will provide me with the means to fill in the gaps. I am extremely fortunate to be working for a very pro-training, pro-development organization. Since starting work there 9 months ago, I have already put in over 120 hours of professional development. And I've been given the freedom to provide access to these same resources for my employees. I know about things now that I was oblivious to this time last year. Things like enterprise architecture and continuity of operations planning and how to write a SQL query that will actually return real, valid results without having to run a user interface that will (maybe) do it for me or spend massive amounts of money paying developers to spend their time writing queries that I can write myself (see: one of my greatest accomplishments this year).

So the benefits of work, for me, surpass mere survival. I work to have a better life in as many ways as work will provide a better life. Maybe that is one reason why my generation is and will continue to be such a mobile workforce. I will choose work that suits my goals for a better life for myself and my daughter. And even within the broad spectrum of what constitutes a 'better life', I will rate the individual elements: money, satisfaction, growth, and base my choices on how I rate those elements. I did just that 9 months ago, and I have to say...I made the right choice.

I am now much more satisfied with my answer to this question. But I would love to know...why do you work?

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Try a Little Tenderness

There is a lizard crawling across my porch rail. I'm okay with it. That's part of living where we live. And while that makes it sound as though we are living in the Mojave, we are, in reality, about a mile from the interstate, in a city that is roughly 750 miles from the nearest desert (I love google). Crazy how you can be so close to things like interstates and car dealerships and supercenters and still feel like you're smack-dab in the middle of the country. That's what I love about this place. Usually.

So I'm looking through my Moleskine at notes I've made over the last few weeks about things and stuff. It's part of the process for me...I think it, I scribble something about it, I go back and decipher the scribbles, then I write about it, as I think about it some more. I readily confess, however, that some scribbles will never be written. At least not where they are easily read. My moments of willingness to disclose the deepest and darkest tend to have fairly narrow windows. Just the same, something happened last weekend and painfully, I admit that I need to write about it and think about it some more.

I can be such an ugly person sometimes. Last Sunday morning, I was of course at church. I was playing piano, so I was there for both services. Since we get there early to rehearse, someone else usually takes Olivia to the nursery for me before the first service starts, and then I pick her up after the second service. Usually that person is Bailey Via, whom Olivia l-o-v-e-s, so they don't give Bailey one of the number tags because she keeps several of the worship team's kids. This Sunday was a little different because my dad was there. So he took Livi to the nursery while I wrapped up rehearsal and went to the back to meet with everyone before first service. Long story short, the last I saw of Dad was when he took Livi to the nursery; I did not have a chance to talk to him between the first and second services. After we played in the second service, I went to get Olivia so we could go home, and as I was signing her out, I said, "You know, my dad dropped her off, and I haven't seen him since then, so I'm not sure if you all gave him a tag for Livi or not...", to which the nursery worker replied, resolutely, "Then you cannot take her with you." In that moment, I could have been standing in St. Peter's Basilica and it would have mattered little. I instantly saw red. Luckily someone was standing nearby who went to find the nursery coordinator, who is a friend of my sister's, so she could verify that I am indeed Olivia's mother. Now, I know - I know - that I should be grateful for this, for the fact that the nursery worker would not release my daughter to someone who did not have any proof that they could pick Olivia up and take her with them. And I have tried and tried to get to that place, but more than anything, I just keep running into - but she would not give my daughter to me.

I try, in so many things, to step back and see from a broader perspective, but for some reason with this, I am having a very hard time. And it makes me feel really guilty because I shouldn't be so blinded by my own protective instincts that I fail to see the merit in the protective efforts of those whom I trust to care for her, even if it's only for a few hours a week. Maybe a teensy bit of what bothers me is the fact that I have been going to this church since October, I have been playing the piano since December, and this woman and I had no idea who the other was. I didn't know her name, and she neither knew my name or who belonged to me. Something about that will not leave me alone this week, specifically where my own responsibility to plug in and get to know people is concerned. I didn't curse and throw things, but I made it pretty clear that I wanted my daughter. Like right that second. And as I was driving away and my heart stopped pounding so in my chest, I thought...oh crap. I am such a jerk.

And that's not all.

In between the 1st and 2nd services, I saw a good friend of mine whose wife is getting ready to have a baby. He was telling us how the doctor said she could go any day now, and in his words I heard that fateful let's-have-this-baby-early hope. You know, the one I started voicing when I was 6 months pregnant. (Hey, after being told by every Kroger cashier in the city that you 'look like you're fittin' ta pop', one can ONLY hope to go early.) I immediately reminded him that most first-time mothers do not have their babies early, so they had better save themselves the disappointment. Later, this conversation came to mind, and I thought...oh my gosh. I totally sounded like that woman. You know, the one whose pregnancy didn't go the way she thought it should, or the one who's had so many epidurals that she thinks natural childbirth and those who choose it are totally idiotic (I met this woman when I was pregnant and opting for natural childbirth), or the one who obviously doesn't remember what it was like to be 38 weeks pregnant, weighing more than she ever thought she would weigh, with every joint - including her finger joints - aching and cracking and getting stuck in ways that they should never, ever get stuck...I was her. And I hated myself for it. Because I do remember what it was like to be 38 weeks pregnant and so miserable but also so incredibly ready to meet my sweet darling. And I remember how desperately I wanted to have her early, how diligently I tracked each and every possible sign of labor, and how disheartened I was when, at long last, my own body failed me and the doctors had to intervene and do for my daughter what I could not do for her myself. So I hope she has that baby early, or at least by noon on her due date.

And I hope that I can soften my heart. That I can see things from someone's perspective besides my all-important own and have some compassion, show some wisdom, extend some tenderness, some grace, some love.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Time Keeps on Tickin'...

I am dragging myself - dragging (kicking and screaming) - to post a blog as often as possible. I started out, in my own personal Pollyanna world, thinking that I could write a new blog every day. Um. Okay. Make me a list of the things you do every single day, and let's compare notes. Then let's add updating a blog to that task list. Mmm-hmm.

Anyway. The point of this blog post is mostly just to tell you that I have lots of interesting things on my mind. Things about which to write, things upon which to reflect, things that will not be neglected. Thanks to a lovely friend who gets me, I now have Moleskine notebooks in which to write the beginnings of these things. I am a sucker for a Moleskine.

So many things to write about. So little time.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

I Believe in a Place Called Forgiveness

con·done: to regard or treat (something bad or blameworthy) as acceptable, forgivable, or harmless

Bill Clinton brought two American journalists home from imprisonment in North Korea today. Based solely on my own emotions and a few comments made by some folks here and there, I think it's safe to say that there are those of us in the body of Christ who may be having a hard time separating their negative opinions of Bill Clinton from the very positive role that he played in securing Laura Ling and Euna Lee's release from a 12-year prison sentence in one of the most hostile countries in the world. Naturally, that got me thinking.

I was very puzzled this afternoon when I felt like that rush of pride over Bill Clinton being one of Arkansas's own was out of place in my heart. I think it's because I'm afraid that if I say what he did this week was good, then I am saying that anything else he ever did that I disagree with is okay, too. It's because I don't want to condone his previous actions. We all have heard/said that, right?

So I looked up the word 'condone' at in the hopes that it might shake a few things loose in my head, and I posted the definition at the beginning of this blog. First, I do not think that 'acceptable, forgivable and harmless' are even close to meaning the same thing, so I think that part of the definition is a little broad for me. However, I think it is also interesting to note that the definition does not indicate a person in the definition; rather, it limits its scope to actions or even presumably objects, in using the word 'something' as that which is bad or blameworthy. Please do not misunderstand this point: I am not making a grand statement about the inherent goodness of humanity. The Word says that no one is righteous, no not one, and I believe the Word.

Perhaps the most poignant of the observations I made this evening is this: the antonym of condone attention here...condemn. That's where I have to pause and think very seriously about these two words, and what's more, their corresponding actions. I'm looking at what this word condone really means, this word that we all so solemnly swear we simply cannot do, and I realize: we are all so right. We simply cannot do it. We cannot do either of these things! The Bible is very clear on the dangers of judging others and withholding forgiveness. Some argue that it appears to then temporarily lift the ban to allow us to judge what is good, what is excellent (1 Thess 5:21; Phil 1:9-10). But the words used for this type of judgment versus judgment of individuals are very different in the original text. Applied to individuals, the meaning is to condemn. Applied to judging what is good and excellent (i.e., what I should be doing as a believer), the meaning is closer to examination and discernment. Notice that neither of the passages above instruct us to judge what is evil. Rather, we are instructed: 'Be excellent in what is good, be innocent in what is evil.' (Romans 16:19) Again, I feel the need for a disclaimer: I am not saying we should not identify and avoid sin - by no means. I am simply suggesting that our focus is better spent on attaining to what is good.

I keep coming back to how everything God asks of us points towards reminding us of our absolute and total need for Him. I believe that He doesn't want us to judge people because it gives us a false sense of righteousness, and it ultimately leads us to the place where we forget our need for God. I know from my own experiences that this is the most dangerous place I can possibly be. I am safest when I am with Him.

In summary, regardless of how I will allow political opinions and the actions of others to fit into (or fall outside of) what I believe to be good and right and excellent, I am so very glad that Bill Clinton brought those girls home to their families. That is awesome. What's more, I'm glad that my sins, my flaws, and my failings are not public knowledge. Okay, I've got another what's more: I'm glad that the people who do know the yucky stuff about me still rejoice with me when I get it right.

So here's to getting it right. Peace.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

I drop my sword and cry for just a while...

We are always fooling ourselves into thinking we are worse or better than we really are, aren't we? It seems I am constantly working to get past the lies of the impostor self, see myself as Beloved and know that anything that exists outside the realm of who I am in Christ is smoke and mirrors, dust and ashes, baloney. Something tells me I will be working on this for a very long time.

In his song, "To God Alone", Aaron Shust asks the question: Can you use me as I am? I find such hope and comfort in this question, this reminder that we are all in the same boat.

This song came out when I was 5 years old. My mom used to listen to it all the time. I had no idea that it would turn out to be so relevant to me now, 25 years later.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

When the Night Owl Hoots His Way Through Me Time...

There is a sacred element of my and Olivia's routine that has grown exponentially shorter as the other elements of her routine (eat, play, sleep) have grown longer. What is this element, you ask? It is Me Time. Our routine has been, since she was a wee tiny thing, E.A.S.Y., which stands for Eat, Activity, Sleep, You. The Sleep and the You occupy the same time frame in the routine, and the idea here is that when your baby is sleeping, you go have mommy time. It is a welcome respite, and one of which I never grow weary, even two years after her birth.

The funny thing is, now that she is older, she sleeps less. She takes longer to eat, and she spends more time playing. But she sleeps less because she needs less sleep. Makes sense, right? Hmph. Well.

The dilemma I find myself in is this: where I used to kick off mommy time each night by 6:30 at the very latest, now I am lucky if she is in bed by 7:30, and usually it is closer to 8:00 or even later. If I am truly being good to myself and going to bed in enough time to get plenty of rest, this gives me around 2 hours each night to: clean the kitchen, clean whatever else needs cleaning, get the next day's meals in line, get the next day's clothes in line, check e-mail, return phone calls, pay bills, and, oh yes, relax. Two hours is simply not enough time for all of the above, and I know this going into it. So I end up doing small bits of everything, and I still end up staying way too late. The next day I wake up and it starts all over again. Wash, rinse and repeat.

I am not complaining. I love my baby.

Nonetheless, my life needs some order. I can't force her to go to bed before she's ready. We'd both be miserable. So I need to adapt, and that is going to take a little bit of organization. I keep hearing about this Fly Lady. I think I need her book.

I am not as young as I used to be. (If you have talked to me at any point in the last few weeks, you probably know I will be 30 very soon. Too soon.) I used to be able to work just fine on 6 hours of sleep. Not so now. So what gives? And why is it so hard for me to give up my 'me' time? Or is it really necessary for me to give it up? Maybe I just need to work harder at staying organized, and then I'll find all the 'me' time I need. Just maybe.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Countdown to 30

I will be 30 years old in fifteen days. Eek.

Monday, July 20, 2009

The Briar

So we bought a house. Through the Lord's provision and some amazing, awe-inspiring miracles, it is done. I had my friends Josh and Amy Powers over for lunch on Sunday, and Josh asked me about the things that have surprised me about homeownership (I had already voluntarily discussed a few). So I thought perhaps I would discuss those for a bit. Et voila.

1. I like gardening. When Holly would talk about her sweet potato vine, or Mom and Charlie would take pictures of their azaleas, I was always like, yeah yeah yeah, but now. Well, get out of my way. I have planted zinnias, spread fertilizer, tilled and planted a tree ring, and potted a bell pepper plant that I think may be doomed by my inexperience at repotting vegetable plants. NONEtheless, I love it. I like dirt. I like seeds. I like looking at dirt and seeds and watching what they do from one day to the next. I am already planning for my fall vegetable garden, especially since my builder's son told me today that I might as well give up on my hopes of a truly grassy yard until the fall. Blast. Oh well. Winter squash, here we come!

2. I like being here. I have always been intentional about choosing apartments or houses that would offer the maximum amount of soul-safeness one could hope to find in a rental, but until now, I just did not know how deep that nourishment can run. For the last two years (since Olivia's birth), I have shared a room with my daughter. I did this out of choice because I just knew that I would prefer to be as close to her as possible. But here, we each have our own rooms. So at night, I don't hang out in the living room, or the kitchen, or the front porch. I hang out in my bedroom. Because I can sit in my bed, with the lights on, and watch a movie or post a blog or read a book and it's okay because my daughter is in her room with the lights off and sound machine ON. I gladly re-welcome that grown-up-ness into my life.

3. I worry about what might have been left on when I leave for work. I use 4 heating devices max each morning: stove, blow-dryer, flat iron, iron. Every morning, as I am driving down the road, I go through them all mentally. Did I turn the stove off after making our oatmeal? Did I unplug the blow-dryer? Did I turn off the flat iron? Did I even iron any clothes this morning? The sense of investment and ownership jumped off the charts literally overnight, and I definitely didn't plan on that. Yes, I have insurance, but who drives away from their house each morning thinking, 'oh, who cares, I have insurance...'?????

4. I enjoy just about everything more here. The mindset of renting vs. owning really is astonishing. I think maybe it is more pronounced in the South, especially considering the fact that folks in the North can rent the same place for 20 years and have it make perfect sense from just about every viewpoint. So I definitely think this is, at best, a regional phenomenon. But I like to cook here. I like to garden here (and I have never liked that anywhere), I like to fix things here, I like to make lists about 'here'. It's more about the sense of permanence than the sense of ownership for me, honestly. It's the fact that I asked for a place to settle.

I could write more, for sure, but it is late, and I need to get my weary bones to bed. So until I write again, come on down to the Briar patch. Sit on my porch and I'll fix you some sweet tea.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Video Killed the Radio Star

A thought has occurred to me. Is web-based social networking altering the quality and depth of our connections with one another? These days when I meet someone or get reacquainted with someone from my past, the easiest thing to do is just to say, "Hey, I'll add you on Facebook/Myspace/Bebo/Twitter, etc..." And that usually becomes our method of communication, with the exception of a few rather exceptional folks who actually pick up the phone and call me or I them, and then we ***gasp*** get together and do stuff in person. There are specific examples I could cite where I have hidden behind the internet and relationships have been underdeveloped at best, but I am tired from a happy weekend with people I love, so that will need to happen later. And I'm not saying that everyone hides behind the internet...not by any means. But I do. Because I am shy-ish when I meet new people.

So I'm thinking about doing something radical (for me) and shutting the old Facebook down for a bit. If I want to connect with someone, I am going to pick up the phone, and I am going to invite everyone else to do the same. I've always wanted to do a social experiment, and I think this will be fun (and challenging). So yeah. That should be coming down the pike here in just a few days.

I love connecting, and I want to do it the best way it can be done. For all of its wonderfulness, electronic communication also poses some of the greatest challenges to the communication model by layering filter upon filter and subsequently removing several key tools for interpreting a given message. To be clear, though, I am not boycotting Facebook or Myspace or Twitter or e-mail. Just going to step back a bit and rethink how and why I use it.

In the meantime, I am on the hunt for scripture verses that address industriousness vs. laziness, doing good work (as unto the Lord), and pretty much anything that is God's truth about being a faithful steward of what he has given us, particularly as it relates to keeping an orderly home (as opposed to being lazy - are you sensing my theme yet?). I would most definitely welcome any suggestions on where to look.

My baby and Dux, one of her favorites, and a special gift from Uncle Sam (the man, not the government). She has been so much fun this weekend.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Crow's Feet

People go bald. They turn gray, gain weight, get sick, get skinny, get married, have babies, grow up.

I was looking through some pictures tonight on Facebook (I am totally a Nosey Nancy), and I was struck by what aging does to us. This is not the first time I have felt this way while looking at friends' pictures on Facebook. I am quite sure that lots of other folks have felt the same way looking at my pictures.

Our bodies change, our lives change. In most cases, does who we are change? I don't think so. (See: why I have not married the dudes I have not married.) I think things about us change. I think that's inevitable as we grow, we hurt, we risk, we lose, we win, we love...but I think that at the core, we typically remain the same. I'm struggling to find an analogy to more accurately illustrate what I'm getting at here, and I'm coming up empty-handed. I'm not sure there is one. Hm. Maybe chemistry. Chemical changes vs. physical changes. A physical change is an alteration to a substance's external properties, while a chemical change forms a completely new substance. I think who we are - that's our chemical makeup. What we look like, where we live, where we work, that's our physical makeup. Maybe what I'm suggesting is that physical changes can occur in spades and never truly alter our chemical makeup. That's not always true, not for every person. For the sake of this blog, let's pretend that it is.

A woman that I am privileged to know told me recently that she has learned the secret of surviving criticism and opposition. She told me that she knows that nothing anyone says will ever change who she is. She said it with such conviction that, even though I have heard some form of that sentiment over and over again, I really stopped to think about it. And I've been thinking about it ever since then. It makes me feel free. Giddy, almost. I want to be that convinced of who I am and my worth as a beloved child of God, that I can let all the other words just fly around overhead. My friend literally used that metaphor. She said, "Those words, they're just flying around, just words up in the air, that's all." I'm telling you, this woman, she is a book waiting to happen.

I don't really have much beyond that. Just the thought that I can be okay with who I am. You can be okay with who you are. No matter where I live, or where you live, or where either of us works or whom either of us has or hasn't married. No one can threaten who I really am, or who you really are. I'm okay, you're okay. We're all okay.

Friday, May 22, 2009

What are you waiting for??

Three weeks ago, I was confronted with the reality that our previously scheduled move-out date of December 31 of this year was being moved up to June 30. In a very roundabout but very gracious way, the Lord had prepared me for this bit of news and had vanquished fear from my heart over hearing what I somehow knew I was going to hear. Just the same, I needed to cry, and I thought Amy's house would be a good place to do that. So I drove out there. We had a nice visit - I always feel so safe at Amy's house. After some talking and sighing and trying to get Olivia to be okay with petting Layla, the babe and I headed back home. As we were driving away, I began to pray for our situation. With no small amount of boldness, I asked for a house of our own. And by "own", I mean, a mortgage instead of a rent check. The thought of moving into an apartment after living in this huge wonderful house just made me sad, mostly for Olivia.

I prayed that God would perform the impossible and allow me to buy a house, a place where Olivia could have a yard to play in, where it could be just me and her, where we could put down some roots and really dig in. I asked for a home where we could really and truly settle in. I thought of the verse in Hebrews that says: "anyone who comes to Him must believe that He exists and that He rewards those who earnestly seek Him." So I grabbed hold of those two truths and declared them outright. And then I cried some more.

I struggled over the next couple of days with the thought that maybe the best thing for us would be to move into an apartment. It was a very difficult thought, but I prayed earnestly for the willingness to obey if that was the case. I love the "willing to be made willing" clause.

I had found a few ADFA programs online that offer first-time homebuyers a chance to get into a house without an enormous down payment, and I had pursued that route to what I thought was no avail. Several folks I had spoken with in lending had complained about these programs and basically refused to work with them.

Then my precious baby fell and broke her arm and had to have surgery. So I was a little preoccupied, and the stress of that situation had me thinking - you know, an apartment would be an easy place to get into, move into and be in. Maybe I should just do hassle of trying to get a mortgage, trying to find a house, etc. I'll just do that.

Through a curious turn of events, a friend of mine ended up giving me the number of a loan officer who works with the ADFA programs often, and she thought she might be of help to me. I had really reconciled myself to getting a rental, but I thought I would make this one last phone call and then be done with my dream of buying a house.

It's two weeks later, and I am scheduled to close on my new house June 26.

My friend Samuel has probably been one of my biggest cheerleaders through this process. He has expressed unwavering faith that I would be able to do this, even before I knew it was the remotest possibility. So when I sent him a text telling him my offer had been accepted, he told me to give God praise for what He has done. And my first thought was, "But we haven't closed yet. I don't have the keys. My stuff is not in that house and I have not filled out a change of address form."

Yes, the facts of buying a home state that the home is not yours until you take possession, and you do not take possession until after closing. But the facts of my situation state that I prayed for a house and I am getting one. So I will praise Him because He is answering me. I definitely don't deserve this amazing brand new house with a wraparound porch, and it is above and beyond what I was even asking for to begin with! I wish I had the boldness in praising Him that I found in asking for the house. Something in me tends to think that I should just lay low and be real quiet - maybe if I don't rock the boat, everything will go through at closing, and then I can give my thanks. But where is the faith in that response? It is covered up by fear, and to that fear I say, you have got to go. The Lord has heard my prayer, and He has answered me.

Some years ago, I was returning to the Lord after a long period of rebellion, and He used Psalm 107 to illustrate His goodness and love. At the beginning of this whole process, I went to Psalm 107, really just for comfort, you know, for a familiar spot in the Word to help shore up my faith a little bit. This is what the first part of the Psalm says:

1 Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good;
his love endures forever.
2 Let the redeemed of the LORD say this—
those he redeemed from the hand of the foe,
3 those he gathered from the lands,
from east and west, from north and south.
4 Some wandered in desert wastelands,
finding no way to a city where they could settle.
5 They were hungry and thirsty,
and their lives ebbed away.
6 Then they cried out to the LORD in their trouble,
and he delivered them from their distress.
7 He led them by a straight way
to a city where they could settle.

8 Let them give thanks to the LORD for his unfailing love
and his wonderful deeds for men.

He is so good to us.

Pictures of my new home will be posted soon. :)

Friday, May 15, 2009

All the Federales say...

Because I promised it, and because there was at least one person long suffering enough to read my previous post about how Lefty came to be mine, I thought I should tell you the story of Poncho and Lefty.

My first full day in the Highlander, I thought, you know, I need to name this thing. Then, three - count them, three - separate times by the end of that day, I had heard "Poncho and Lefty" on the radio. So random. Or was it?

See, Rachel had just bought a Honda CR-V. So I had a brilliant thought. That we would name our trucks Poncho and Lefty and thus form our very own car clique. Holly and Sharla have a car clique, too, but the story of their car clique involves grand theft auto and truancy.

Then we had to decide who would be Poncho and who would be Lefty. We decided mine would be Lefty, since Olivia favors her left hand (and my alignment favors the left), and Rachel picked Poncho, since it is obviously a much cooler name than Lefty.

So here they are, folks. Poncho and Lefty. Lefty is clearly the one on the left, and there's Poncho, hanging out beside her.

The desert's quiet and Cleveland's cold,
And so the story ends we're told
Poncho needs your prayers it's true, but save a few for Lefty too
He only did what he had to do, and now he's growing old

All the Federales say they could have had him any day
They only let him slip away out of kindness, I suppose.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Livi Lou

My darling, my daughter. We have had a trying couple of weeks. But she is on the mend. And I am on the mend. And right now, that is good enough for me.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Out of kindness, I suppose...

It is time to tell the story...of Lefty.

Lefty is my new ride. I will tell you why I named her Lefty a little bit later on, but for now, there is a greater story to tell, and that is how Lefty came to be mine.

If you have known me for any length of time, you know that if cars were Vegas, I'd be The Cooler. It would be nearly impossible (solely for the sheer amount of energy it would consume) to list here all of the mishaps I have had in, out of, around, about or because of any one of my vehicles (or any one of my family member's vehicles). It all started with my very first car - a 1980-something Toyota Corolla. It was free to me, and it worked for about two days. Then it sat in the front yard. Then it sat in the back yard. It stayed there long enough for people to point at our yard and laugh as they were driving down our street, listening to Jeff Foxworthy on the radio.

Shortly after that, I got a 1984 Honda Accord. It was burgundy, had power everything, and even though it was 12 years old, I really loved it. But then this one day, I was at K-Mart, and there was this minivan in the parking lot...and anyway, the Honda ended up without a front bumper. And the Honda stayed without a bumper. Eventually even the bumper frame (whatever that's called) started falling off, and my dad had to duct tape it. Seriously, my driving experiences could have fueled the routines of stand-up comics for years.

My senior year, about two days before graduation, I struck a deal with one of my friend's dads and bought her 1988 Cavalier. I can still remember driving it to graduation and being soooo excited. This was my car! All mine, and it was shiny and pretty and didn't have any scratches on it. But then this one day, five months later, I was driving in my college town, and there was this minivan in the road...and anyway, the Cavalier ended up with a smashed-up front end. She never was quite the same again, and my sister Holly even started calling her the Crapalier. Clever. Eventually the strain on the Crap-o's radiator proved to be too much, and she went to her final resting place...none of us is really 100% sure where that is, though. That's another story altogether.

After the Crap-o crapped out, I just didn't have a car for a while. See, I was in college and because of rehearsals and my spring traveling schedule with Williams Singers, I wasn't really able to get a job. I was without a car for about 18 months, I think. Looking back now, I do not know how I did that. I'm thankful for the grace that God imparted to me during that time, and I'm also thankful for the humility that I learned. I don't ever want to be so comfortable that I forget what it is like to be without, even if it is something like a car and not food or shelter. As my mom would say, that's a little further up Maslow's heirarchy.

So when the car drought ended, I moved into my dad's 1994 Honda Civic. She was navy blue, and I named her Old Navy. I am telling you, the cleverness never ends with the car-naming in this family. (Probably because when it came to our cars, we just had to be able to laugh...) I drove her for several years, but then this one day, I was driving to work, and there was this pickup truck...and anyway, I ended up totaling Old Navy. That's right - straight up totaled her. When my dad called me after the accident to tell me that she was totaled, I couldn't believe it. It was like someone had punched me in the stomach. I was really attached to this car, and she was PAID FOR. Such a sad, sad day.

I didn't waste much time crying, though, because I was living in Cabot and going to school and working full-time in Little Rock. Carlessness, even for a day, was not an option. So I struck a deal with our Honda guy in Cabot (that's right, we have a Honda guy) and drove away in a 1999 Honda Civic. And I hated it. It was the classic case of getting a new puppy too soon after the beloved family pet has passed on. She made funny noises, and her seats didn't feel right, and she didn't handle well, and she just wasn't Old Navy. I took her back to Mahoney (the Honda guy) a couple time to get various things fixed on her until my inner Miss Priss completely took over, and I ended up at Gwatney Chevrolet, signing the papers on a 2004 Chevy Malibu.

I will spare you all the details of the ensuing months (it is recent enough that we all remember it well), but she turned out to be a bonafide, attorney-general-calling, Arkansas-lemon-law-enforcing L-E-M-O-N. AND I wrecked her. That story is, itself, about five blogs that neither I nor my parents nor Rob McBride nor Kim Roth probably care to recall at the moment. It makes me tired just to think about it.

So I got out of the Malibu and into a 2005 Chevy Equinox. She was one of the first Equinoxes in Arkansas, and I was proud - yes, that's right, actual pride resided - to be driving her. I named her Queenie, for obvious reasons. Now, even though I was working full-time, I still had no business buying a vehicle like that right then. After 8 months of making those car payments, insurance payments, and pumping inordinate amounts of gasoline into that tank, I began to wonder if I was going to have to move into my car. I was looking at a new place to live, but I couldn't even afford a studio apartment in Southwest because of how expensive my ride was. I made a very difficult decision and traded Queenie in.

A friend of my mom's recommended that I see a friend of hers at a Suzuki dealership. Apparently some people have Suzuki guys. So I went. And I drove away in a 2004 Suzuki Forenza that I pretended real hard to like. And then this one day, I was driving to meet some friends, and there was this curb...and anyway, Old Blue really never recovered. I put a crazy amount of cash into that car, and my insurance agent is about one and a half claims away from sainthood for not dropping my policy like a bushel of scalding hot potatoes.

But see, here's the thing. Way back, when I traded in the not-good-enough Civic for the Malibu (neither of which I named, by the way), I was instantly upside down because of some "negative equity" from the Civic that they had to tack on to make the numbers work (I'm still not sure what all that means). I was a naive car buyer then, so I didn't read all the numbers. I was too excited about the keyless entry and sunroof. And then, when I traded in the Malibu, I was a little further upside down with some more negative equity from the Civic and now, the Malibu. I knew it, then, but I rationalized it by convincing myself that the deal I was getting on the Equinox was worth it, and it all really balanced out in the end. And THEN, when I traded in the Equinox, I took a full-fledged tumble into UpsideDown Land with negative equity from the Civic, and the Malibu, and the Equinox. All total, I was paying $3k more than what that car was worth, not to mention the $3k it lost the second I drove it off the lot. Talk about feeling trapped. And you know, as unpleasant as that was, it taught me a very valuable lesson. It helped to teach me patience and gratitude (when it's hard to be grateful).

I had fully intended to drive the Suzuki into the ground, mainly because I would be upside down in it until two months before it was paid off, and who sells their car when they have two payments left? But then this one day, I was meeting my dad for breakfast, thought I was going to tell you I had another wreck, didn't you? But I did not! I did, however, have a random thought on the way to IHOP that morning, that I needed to have him take a look at my tires and make sure they were looking good.

After breakfast, as if on cue, my dad said he wanted to look at my tires. My heart sank - I hadn't even asked him to look at them yet, but I don't believe in coincidences, so I had a pretty good feeling what was coming. Let me just tell you - the tires on that thing are ridiculously expensive for the kind of car that it is. On top of that, the way that the tires were wearing seemed to indicate a more serious problem in the car's rear end. So we dropped it off with our tire guy in Cabot and waited for an estimate. After a couple days of back-and-forth deliberation, I set a number in my head and told myself that if the estimate to fix the Suzuki exceeded that number, I would start shopping. Sure enough, I started shopping. Shopping made me nervous, so I prayed a lot. I prayed against spontaneity and impulsiveness, I prayed against foolishness, I prayed against materialism and stubbornness. I prayed for wisdom, I prayed for peace, and I prayed for the strength to be content with whatever outcome God saw fit to provide.

Eventually my search led me to - you guessed it - my dad's Toyota guy in Searcy. It appears that I'm a lot like my dad. Something about having "a guy" makes me feel safe when it comes to my car. If it made me nervous to shop, I was in a near panic over going to a dealership. I have never driven away from one of those places with true peace in my heart, so it seemed like a bit of a risky move. Just the same, Michael (our Toyota guy) was insisting that I needed to see this Highlander he had on the lot, and that if I made it to Searcy, he would sell me a car that night. I was not trying to hear that. And I wasn't really all that interested in looking at a Highlander. When we got there, it was dark outside, and Michael had very cleverly pulled the Highlander into the service area, where the bright lights make all the cars look really shiny. The Highlander was no exception. She was so cute and sparkly and sporty. Naturally I hid my excitement, as any well-versed car shopper knows to do.

We took her for a drive, and I noticed she was pulling to the left. Not just a huge deal to me - I mean, she is five years old after all. She handled fairly well, was very comfortable (I'm all about the front seat arm rest) and had just enough pep in the engine to get us on down the road. After the first test drive, I wanted to try out a Rav4 because I'd really been eyeing those and the CRVs. Did NOT like it. Apparently the McSmokersons had previously lived in this vehicle. Besides the horrible smell, it just felt really tiny and bouncy...two things I am not looking for in a vehicle.

So it was back to the Highlander. Michael didn't really have anything else I was interested in even looking at, so he led us into his office for the dreaded wait. Now, I had been kind of smart about this and had managed to secure financing through my credit union before starting my shopping. I wanted to have the reinforcement of saying - this is all I can spend. Just the same, I was anticipating rolling in some negative equity from the Suquimalicivic, so I was braced for at least one sour note in the deal. Michael went outside to see what he could give me for Old Blue, as she was affectionately - although never officially - called in her last days. Without going into boring details, my preliminary shopping had given me firm reason to believe that I would owe at least $3000 more on the Suzuki than anyone would be willing to give me for it. This meant that whatever deal I made needed to be really, really quite sweet.

The Highlander was priced at $15k, but earlier in the evening he had come down to $12k. Even though it was a good deal, I didn't feel like it was good enough. I was letting various combinations of down payments and loan terms bounce around in my head while we waited for Michael to finish giving the Zuki her once-over so he could come back in, tell me I was crazy for thinking anyone would buy that thing and ask me to go home at once. After ten minutes or so, he came back in with my keys. He did not give them back to me.

He sat on the edge of his desk, and he said: "This is what I am going to do for you. I am going to pay off your trade and sell you the Highlander for eleven thousand dollars."

I just stared at him. Then I looked at my dad. Then I looked back at Michael. And in the classic don't-do-this-at-a-dealership move, my eyes got really wide, I started beaming and practically screeched, "Are you serious?" He had to have known it was hook, line and sinker from that moment on. But he was indeed serious. My next question was, "So is there something wrong with the Highlander?" He assured me there was not and started working on the papers. My dad had just bought his second truck from Michael, and after I expressed my disbelief for about the fifth time, he said that he wanted to give me a good deal and keep my dad's business. I can live with that.

After about an hour, we were driving home in a shiny new (to me) 2004 black Toyota Highlander, with an appointment in a few days to bring her in and get that whole pulling-to-the-left thing taken care of. My head was still spinning, and I was still waiting for the catch - you know, for the bumper to fall of on the interstate or for the headlights to quit working or for smoke to start billowing out from under the hood. Instead, it was a smooth and easy ride from Searcy back to Little Rock.

There is a verse in Proverbs that says the Lord "adds no burden" to His blessings. My last three car purchases had produced major burdens, so it is no wonder that I expected the same here. But driving down I67 that night, I felt light as a feather. My burden here was the Suzuki. I had been carrying (driving) around a couple years of guilt over having made some poor decisions. Every time I made my car payment, every time I had to have something repaired, every time I even washed the thing, I would think about what got me into that ride in the first place. And you know, I had finally made peace with all of that and had decided that yes, some yuckiness got me here, but I learned from it. And I intended to drive that thing until its wheels fell off to prove it. Actually, if you think about it, the wheels literally were about to fall off. Still, God did not let me get to that point before providing me with an amazing way out. I must confess to you that for several weeks, I was secretly afraid that the Toyota dealership folks were going to call me and tell me that they had made a mistake and I had to come get that thing and take it away.

Even now, when I think about this whole thing - my history, my need, my desire, my search and God's provision, it feels so much like the story of us - of people and our Maker. We make horrible decisions - sometimes spontaneous, sometimes premeditated, that keep piling up on top of each other and we find ourselves driving around in something we never wanted in the first place. Eventually, when the thing that we ended up settling for, whether by choice or not, finally breaks down, we are faced with our need. We start to search. Sometimes we know the search needs to be different this time, and sometimes we go back to the same places we looked when we got saddled with that old jalopy. But the beauty is, it doesn't matter how or where or why or when we search because all the while, He searches for us like a shepherd going after his sheep. When we are found, and He satisfies our desires with good things, the psalmist calls it the "richest of fare", we are whole. Then, if you're like me, we step right out of that contentment and wonder what the catch is. We wonder when He's going to take some - or all - of it back. The great thing about God goes on being that He won't. Even if we expect Him to. When Jesus said, "It is finished!" from the cross, He really did mean - this is finished. It's done. Jesus would not have gone to the cross if He had not intended for His grace to stick. I pray for the courage to believe that more every day.

If you are still reading, you are my I dare...heroes. Thank you for hanging in there. I love to tell this story, and doing so in its entirety can wear a folk out. So I will leave you with that for now, and soon I will tell you why the Highlander is called Lefty. That is a very good and much shorter story. Good night all.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Adorable things my daughter is doing:

She is finally into baby dolls. Yesterday, we went to Wal-Mart, and as we were cruising the toy aisles, looking at everything from bubble makers to Barbie jeeps, she starts pointing and smiling and saying, "Baby? Baby?" Her eyes were so wide, and she was so excited. There was a huge section on the back wall that was filled with baby dolls. Until now, she hasn't really expressed an interest in them, even though I bought her one at Christmas, hoping she would. And even though she kept dropping Baby on her head while we were finishing our shopping, she is still very excited about having a little baby of her own. When we were driving home, I kept hearing kissy sounds, and I looked in the back - she was giving her baby one kiss after the other. Love it.

She is starting to sing. When we got back to the lakehouse with the baby doll, Shermee and I showed her how to rock the baby and sing "Rock-a-bye Baby". Later on, she would put the baby on the porch swing and start pushing it back and forth and try to sing Rock-a-bye Baby. I used to sing to Olivia a lot when she was newborn, and recently I picked it back up again because there have been several times when she has been sick and needed some help getting to sleep. It is so neat to hear her sweet little voice as she sings her own song.

She is in the early - and I do mean early - stages of potty training. When she is wet, or making a wet, she will point to her diaper and say "pah-ee" (her word for potty). When she is dirty, she will grab the back of her diaper and pat her booty. Sometimes she'll say "pah-ee" or "puh" (poo, of course). Aunt Holly put her on the toilet the other night and even managed to get a little bit of effort out of her, I think. Mom and I have both tried several times since then, and so far our timing just hasn't been right.

She can (and will) climb on anything. She loves to play with bouncy balls, and she is even learning how to throw the ball and try to catch it. She has learned that she gets a laugh or two from various friends and family members if, when reading a book, she will point at the funniest looking character and say, "Mama?" (This is where I believe I will be, as they say, paying for my raising.)

When I was pregnant, a friend (now also one of my roommates and Olivia's beloved KiKi) gave me a CD that is a compilation of baby, kiddo and mommy songs. There is one song in particular that spoke to me in such a huge way during the final months of my pregnancy, and I have always been so thankful that she introduced me to its message. I am praying it I learn to hold on to the heart of God, for our life together, for the present and the future.

Prayers for This Child
by Sara Groves

I do not know how I am to pray for this child
as a mother I don't want my baby denied
but in the waiting in the waiting
I learned

every instinct in me wants to shield him from pain
take the arrows of misery heartache and blame
but in the sorrow in the sorrow
I learned to hold on

I only have two eyes - be all seeing
I only have two hands - be everywhere
I do not know enough - to be all knowing
I give this baby up into your care

I do not know how, how to pray for this child
I want to guard her from everything wicked and wild
but in the trial in the trial
I learned to hold on
And in the trial, in the trial
I learned to hold on to the heart of God

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Forgive the urgency, but hurry up and wait.

Lately I find myself listening to a lot of country music. I asked myself about that tonight...and I think maybe it's because of the simplicity that most country songs carry with them.

Life's a dance you learn as you go...Jesus, take the wheel...Yeah we live out in the country and that's what it's all and me goin' fishin' in the dark...

Olivia and I are spending the weekend house-sitting at Mom and Charlie's this weekend, and I am really looking forward to having some alone time to think, write, read, reflect and sleep. And then, of course, to enjoy being the only one in the room with her and, thus, the sole object of her attention and affection. :) Don't get me wrong - I love having all of our friends and family so near to us, and my heart thrills every time she shows her affection for any one of them. But I also love it when it gets to be just me and her. Words really can't describe.

I think we will take our shoes off and dance to country music in the backyard.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

The best-laid plans...

Last night, I drove home in the rain and decided to put on some mellow music and just enjoy the spring rain. Because I love the spring rain. I decided that I would go pick up Olivia and we would play downstairs in our living room with the back door open so she could see/hear/try to get out in the rain (I was planning on allowing this). I was so looking forward to it.

So I get to the daycare, and I get soaked – literally drenched – as I’m going in to pick her up. So I think, hey, she might like this, or at least I hope she does since I don’t have her raincoat with me. She did not like the rain. At least not being pelted with it on the way to the car. I still thought – you know, we can go inside and get dry, clean clothes on and have a ball. When we got home, though, she was really, really hungry, so I started her dinner. I went ahead and fixed mine, too, so that we could eat and go play together. My dinner didn’t turn out so well. I don’t recommend salmon quesadillas.

Finally, I’m downstairs with Olivia, whose diaper I had tried to change mid-poo because I was so distracted, and I’ve just spilled pink nail polish all over my fabulous new summer dress from Sandalwood Forest. I really and truly wanted to cry, but it was all just too frustrating. My hair was still wet, my mind was bewildered, my spirit was exhausted, and my daughter was running around half-naked in our disaster-area living room. The image I had driven home with of mother and daughter frolicking in the rain in flowy spring dresses had flat-lined. Just the same, we played with her Noah’s ark, and we read half of my favorite book. Then she wallered all over me while I helped the Murphy’s plan the music for Katie’s wedding. By 8:00, the Murphy’s had gone, Olivia was asleep, and I had the rest of the night to myself. I think I managed to accomplish a few things, to restore some minor order to the mess in our living room, but you couldn’t tell by looking, probably. I’m just really, really tired, and I am praying that very soon Olivia and I will have the opportunity to go somewhere and spend a couple of days just me and her.

‘But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: because of His great love, we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion; therefore I will wait for Him.’ –Lam. 3:21-24

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Baby, You're the Lucky One...

So I'm sitting here, and I am exhausted. I was on my way to church* at 7:30 a.m. to play and sing in both services. From there, I went to Target. From there, I picked Olivia up and went home. I fed her lunch and cleaned the kitchen. I let her play for a bit, then I put her down for her nap and Waleska and Brad came over for their engagement photo shoot.

After they left, I simultaneously folded two-day-ago-dried laundry and tried to find Lost Season 5, Episodes 1-5 online. They are gone, and that makes me want to boycott ABC. Except they own Lost. And Ugly Betty. Instead, I may write a very strongly worded letter. After folding the laundry, I curled up and resignedly watched Lost S5 episodes 6 and part of 7. Halfway through episode 7, I hear the babe. She had been asleep for 2+ hours, so I knew she'd gotten her nap out, and it was time to switch back into Mommy gear. So we came upstairs. She found a pencil and some paper (Waleska's wedding invitation, no less), and went to town. About every twenty seconds, though, she would stop for a kiss. It was the sweetness that I have struggled to infuse into our lives because of our frantic pace over the last few weeks, and I felt like this was her saying...I'm good. We're good. It's good. Mwah.

We needed to take a trip to Shermee's to pick up some things, so we hopped in the truck after some serious playing and rode over there, windows down, country music on, in our new favorite ride, the Highlander (heretofore referred to as Lefty. That is another blog post altogether.).

We stayed at Shermee's for just a bit, but I knew LiviLou needed to eat dinner, so we headed home. She ate - with the help of Aunt Rachel - and I uploaded Brad and Waleska's pics to my laptop, along with the twins' bday party pics

and some great shots from Livi playing this afternoon. Then we went downstairs, so she could play, and I could clean. I folded some more laundry. I put away all of the laundry I have been folding since Monday. I showed her how to clean up a bottle full of water when you (she) spill(s) it on the bamboo flooring in our hallway. She learned, firsthand, that the drawers on her bureau have never really laid on their rollers straight, so if you pull one all the way out, it will be nearly impossible for Mommy to get the thing back in without the whole bureau looking like it fell off the back of a truck at some point in its history. I stripped my bed and showed her how we wash our sheets while she tried to make a run for it because the garage door was still open. Then I heated up her bottle - it is a battle I am not fighting right now - and we started our bedtime routine...dim lights, sound machine, diapey change, clean, fresh pjs on, cradle hug from Mommy and down we go, pink blanket and Dux (her favorite bear, whom she named herself) tucked in with her.

I walked upstairs and got settled with the laptop, TV remote control and Diet Coke, and now I am ready to talk about this. The Sabbath.

I am so guilty of cluttering up our day of rest with anything but rest, until I find myself clamoring to jam some rest into any moment I can for the rest of the week, until Friday at noon, I am one big heaping pile of fatigue. My reserves are spent, and I can't wait for the weekend to get here so I can finally relax...except that I don't do that for any longer than a few hours at a time, at best.

Recently, my mother started nursing school. It is an intensive program, and it requires a great deal of her time, focus and energy. She is also working 24-30 hours a week. Plus she has her own home to maintain and, honestly, she is still pretty much a newlywed. Before, I was able to make many more requests of her time, but right now, she is spread fairly thin, so I am really trying to give her the space that she needs so she can excel in this next phase of her career. Nothing is different when Olivia and I do go to spend time with her and's just that, for now, we have to be a little more intentional about scheduling. And I am totally okay with that. I want my mom to finish her RN, and to finish well. The best way of describing it is this: the changes in her availability have forced me to begin pulling the other leg of my big girl britches up. And this is a good thing. All of it is very, very good, for everyone. I suppose it is just another reason why I am pondering how I structure mine and Olivia's life together.

So I am going to start praying about the Sabbath. I am not content with 2 hours here, 1 hour there, 3 hours here (if I'm lucky and she sleeps that long). The phrase "sun-up to sun-down" is ringing in my ears, and I think the image there - of beginning and ending a day having done nothing but rest, enjoy your family, and, of course, eat - is beautiful. Of course it is beautiful. God designed it, so its destiny is beauty. My intention is to carve out a chunk of time when the house is clean, the errands are run, we are bathed, dressed and presentable, and we can rest - relax, freely enjoy leisure activity with no distracting thoughts of laundry, budgeting, rehearsing, scrubbing, organizing, winterizing, springerizing, or any other "izing" that keeps us from enjoying the simplicity of being together. My daughter is getting older. Her emotions are maturing every day, and she notices when I am distracted, disconnected and stressed. Those moments are inevitable for any family, for any mother. But I think the healing comes when you can spend solid amounts of time connecting, really looking at each other and laughing with (or at) each other, and enjoying the life God has given us together, as mother and blessed, amazing daughter...without all the riff-raff getting in the way.

So please pray for me as I seek to be intentional about this. I am just so thankful that we live where we do - with people who love us and who also value rest and relaxation, so that there is no worry that the house will always be in a constant state of activity and we will have to go somewhere else to slow down. We are always able to slow down right here.

*On the way to church this morning, I flew past a Trooper going 80 mph. I slowed down, of course, and then about a mile later, I see said Trooper in my rearview mirror. What does he do? Flies right on past me. I couldn't believe the mercy. And I drove the speed limit the rest of the way to church and was, of course, late. :)

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

**Announcement: my second child, a shiny new HP laptop, arrived in the mail today. Expect much more frequent blogs.**

I had a dream last night that I went back. They took me on as a contractor/consultant. Basically I was a freelance recruiter, and they had a base structure they paid me with bonuses on top. It was very pleasant, and it was like I could make my own rules. I got to say how things would go. It had me wondering if maybe I should look into going back – kind of test the waters. But then I remember how many days I left there so stressed and so unsure of things. I would wonder how badly I had messed up this time, and what I could do to make up for it the next day, and what they were thinking about me and saying to each other about me behind my back. If they were asking each other if I was on pills, or if I was having trouble adjusting to being a single mother, or if I was going to get married and leave them high and dry, or if I was just plain stupid. I would complete a project and many times it would be sent back to me for correction – the tiniest, most insignificant correction, or the amount of time I had taken with it would be criticized, or it would simply be ignored. I would make suggestions and they would be cut off at the pass, and I always wondered if they could see my jaw clench, and if they knew how many jaw clenches I was from leaving them. I would be drilled for answers, and when I couldn’t answer them as precisely as they wanted, I would sit there, feeling like a bumbling idiot. I felt like a bumbling idiot about 50% of the time that I was there. About 25% of the time that I was there, I was happy – we were laughing, planning, looking to the future, agreeing with each other, making plans. I never felt like he was quite as excited as I was about things or as she would be. I always felt like he looked at me with varying levels of mistrust or disinterest. And I struggled to truly respect him in return. The other 25% of the time that I was there, I was trying to figure out how to motivate these people that worked for us – how to encourage them when my assignment was to crack the whip. How to manage them without insulting their intelligence. How to keep my cool when they did things that were going to make my life immensely more difficult. I felt like I had to know everything – to have my hands in, on and around the entire operation, and in the end, my hands just weren’t big enough. So I took that on as a personal fault. My tragic flaw, having such small hands. So I have taken that away with me. The Small Hand Syndrome. I am grasping at my job, my daughter, my family, my friends, my home, my church, my budget, my health, my God…and I am finding that my hands just won’t reach around all of it. So I can keep grasping and straining and reaching and ending up frustrated and worried and, once again, feeling like a bumbling idiot. Or I can realize that my hands are not meant to reach around all of my life. That there are hands bigger than mine that hold me and all of the above. And that is where I hope to find peace – in the adequacy of knowing that my hands were not built to hold the world…and that it is perfectly okay.

If I could tell the world just one thing
It would be that we're all ok
And not to worry because worry is wasteful
and useless in times like these
I will not be made useless
I won't be idled with despair
I will gather myself around my faith
for light does the darkness most fear
My hands are small, I know,
but they're not yours they are my own
and I am never broken