Friday, December 31, 2010

Words from the Wise

Or at least wise words from the weird.

Jakob left a piece of paper lying in the living room for awhile.  Eventually Joe read it.  After all, if it's in the family's space, it's available to the family, eh?

What he found and shared with me was a collection of quotations that matter to Jakob.

Here they are.

Dear Lord, as we face the battles that we go through in life, we ask for a chance that's fair.  A chance to equal our stripes, a chance to do or dare.  If we should win, let it be by the code - faith and honor held high.  If we should lose, we'll stand as the victors go by.  Day by day we get better and better.  A team that can't be beat, a team that won't be beat.

Don't let what you can't do stop you from doing what you can do.
John Wooden

The difference between a successful person and others is not lack of strength, not a lack of knowledge, but rather a lack of will.
Vince Lombardi

Let me tell you something you already know; the world ain't all sunshines and rainbows.  It's a very mean and nasty place, and I don't care how tough you are, it will beat you to your knees and keep you there, permanently, if you let it.  You, me, or nobody is gonna hit as hard as life, but it ain't about how hard you can hit.  It's about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward.  It's about how much you can take and keep moving forward.  That's how winning is done!  If you know what you're worth, then go out and get what you're worth; but, you gotta be willing to take the hits...  And not pointing fingers saying you ain't where you wanna be because of him, her, or anybody.  Cowards do that, and that ain't you; you're better than that.
Rocky Balboa

We are what we repeatedly do.  Excellence, therefore, is not an act, but a habit.

Great spirits have always encountered great oppositions from mediocre minds.
Albert Einstein

He who hesitates is lost.

A leader is a dealer in hope.
Napoleon Bonaparte

Where there is no vision, the people perish.
Proverbs 29:18
Nice, Jakob.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Best of 2010

This year was good.  Very, very good. 

I'm surprised. 

A the end of 2009, I thought it would suck.  Adam was leaving for college, Jakob was about to get his driving license, and... well, stuff was changing.

But then 2010 happened. 

Adam did graduate and leave for college.  I knew he was ready for college, because I recognized the same signs in him that I felt at his age.  I tried, hard, to respect those signs and urges, and I think we did well. 


I KNOW we did well.  Adam's happy.  Jakob is ready to drive solo.  I learned and grew in 2010. 

Here's the "Best of 2010."

1.  Joe learned he won't be twenty forever.  The man who has never had a "sore spot" in the last... well, lifetime, of playing sports, suffered some results of aging.  And now he's managing them with an increased, all-around work-out schedule.  You go, Joe!

2.  Adam learned about being independent.  He's done well.  His grades are good and he's loving college at the University of Minnesota - Morris.  His happiness radiates from him when discussing college.  He's made friends and likes his professors.  He's also learned what it means to be away from home.

3.  Jakob learned about succeeding and failing in his beloved arena - sports.  He played upper level baseball and lower level basketball.  Both sucked for various reasons AND rocked for various reasons.  His mother best loved that he gave his all no matter the suck- or rock-level.  He's a good boy who always wants to do his best.

I learned the rest...

4.  I learned that a family housed under different rooves is still FAMILY.  And I love that.

5.  I learned that failing is as important as succeeding.  Knowing that changes the way I perceive the world.

6.  I learned that sometimes love isn't enough.  You can't force people to see reason or to come with you on your spiritual journey.  The results of that make me sad.

7.  I learned that marriage is defined not only by God, but by the people who make it.  And the bounds and limits that define a marriage cannot be understood by anyone outside that marriage.

8.  I learned that the best way to love people is by being with them when they're doing what they love.  Ahem. 

9.  I learned that I need to expand my mind all the time.  So I took Latin and plan to learn Spanish while "brushing up" my German.  And I plan to USE those languages.  Not even I have any idea how far I'll go.  And that makes me happy.

10.  I learned that the ONLY thing that matters to me is my marriage.  No matter what I do, or say, or think, or feel... I know that I will rest in the arms of my husband at the end of the day.  And that makes everything worthwhile - or at least understandable.  Praise God.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Dancing in the Rain

2010 ends on a much better note than 2009. 

In 2009, upset about extended family issues and business matters, I couldn't even compose a Christmas letter.  I was buried in some stage of grief for months.

In this year's Christmas homily Father Tim talked about John and Shelley Redmond and how their life together was plagued by his illness.  The couple had a picture frame inscribed, "Life is not about waiting for the storm to pass, it's about learning to dance in the rain."  He said they had learned to dance in the rain, and compared them to Mary and Joseph at the time of Christ's birth.

I think the difference between Me Version 2010 and Me Version 2009 is that I have learned something about dancing in the rain - about laughing and loving and living even when things hurt.

The greatest lesson I'm taking from the last year?  I learned that anger doesn't destroy love. 
"Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails..."
That's true.  Love never fails.  It survives dishonesty and distrust, anger and hurt, misunderstanding and misleading.  It's possible to continue loving despite those things.  I'm glad about that.

My job now is to live in patient hope that enlightenment blesses us all.


This year's letter:

After a year’s sabbatical from writing Christmas letters, it’s safe to say SO MUCH HAS CHANGED for our family!

Adam graduated from Monticello High School and left home in August to attend the University of Minnesota—Morris. Adam’s currently majoring in Math with an emphasis in Education. His ultimate goal is to pursue a higher degree so he can be one of those cool professors who gets high ratings on—AND lots of chili peppers! Kidding aside, Adam loves Morris. He never stops talking about the awesome professors and new friends he’s making. He really enjoyed playing soccer, acquiring his first RED card as goalie. We giggled when we heard his teammates’ surprise: “How does the nicest guy on the team get a RED CARD?!?!” and wondered if Adam’s playing as aggressively as he has in the past. Adam wanted to explain the card, but he only gets 7 lines in this letter!

Jakob enjoys being an only child, except when there’s tons of work to do. The highlight of his year was playing baseball with Joe in Phoenix on a Father/Son team. Jakob’s been plagued with some interesting injuries in the last couple years—a couple broken bones, knee trouble, and now (ahem!) testicular trouble, but he’s rarely missed a game. When not playing sports, he discovered he loves Woods Class. His first home project wasn’t so bad—he designed and built a radical bird house. The second project? Hmm. He and his friends crafted a crossbow and shot pvc pipe at the garage walls. They’ll be learning about patching and painting when it gets warm. He secretly enjoys Adam’s rare visits. Their catch-up conversations explode with energy and laughter, and often occur while wrestling.

Joe continues to play baseball, now not only in Minnesota and Florida, but also in Arizona. With his ability to pitch game after game and his improving batting stats, he was voted MVP and then elected president of one of his leagues! His back hurt this year though, so he’s doing some physical therapy. Testing revealed he has the spine of a twenty-year old, so odds are he’ll keep playing. He’s willing to try pretty much anything to ease the pain, so I finally have a Pilates partner! He’s working hard so he can really enjoy the gift he gave me for our twentieth wedding anniversary January 5; he surprised me with two tickets to Kauai, Hawaii. We leave January 1st for one week (and lots of hiking!) in paradise, and for only the second time in 20 years, we’re vacationing solo. Good times!

I’ve returned to school and adore being back at St Kate’s campus. I’m completing a major in Spanish and a minor in Latin with the intention of applying to Graduate School at the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis. I’d like a higher degree in Medieval History, mostly because I really love the discipline, but partly so my boys will have to call me “Dr. Mom” forevermore. I continue to work with Joe at the bus company during the day and participate in a plethora of volunteer activities in the evenings. In my spare time, I write and read as much as I can. In 2010, I tried my own New Year’s resolution: I would read and blog about 200 novels in one year. To date, I’ve read 194, so I’ll complete the reading. The blogging… eh, well lots of people make resolutions they don’t keep!

Our family has grown since our 2008 Christmas Letter. We have our French foreign exchange son, David, who was with us in 2008, and who returned this summer for a visit. Last year we hosted Mari, a sweet Brazilian daughter, who settled into all our hearts quickly and permanently. She may return this summer (as if anyone would be insane enough to return to Minnesota in the WINTER!), and eventually plans to marry Adam since her sister gets Jakob. In the animal world, We lost Coco to cancer a year ago just when Luna the Lunatic Pug needed a place to live. She’s all puppy with a severe case of ADHD, and we’re never really sure what she’s going to eat next. We spend most of our time explaining our things are “NOT FOR PUPPIES!” as she scampers to her kennel for sanctuary.

Many blessings enrich our lives—an ever expanding family (dare I say, I can hardly wait for daughters-in-law??), true friends, continuing education, good health… Whenever I consider the passing of each year and each milestone for our family, I can’t help but wonder, How did we get so lucky?

We pray God blesses your 2011 with peace, with hope, and with love!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The Blame Game

Perhaps because we live in something of a litigious society - and no, I'm not going to annotate that statement - often the first question I hear in pressured situations is "WHO IS TO BLAME?"

I detest that question.  My answer, always, is "WHO CARES?"  Sometimes I only think it.

Worse is the quick attempt to divert blame by quickly and carelessly asserting innocence when something happens: "IT'S NOT MY FAULT!"

Don't get me wrong.  When things go wrong, finding out why they went wrong is an important part of ensuring the same thing doesn't happen again.  So it can be important to know who did what and when they did it.

Seeking information to solve a problem is different than playing the Blame Game.  "Why not concentrate on solving the problem," suggests a wise friend, "rather than affixing blame?  After all, blame is simply the focus of a small mind."

We teach our kids to play the game when they're very young so they're adept at it by the time they're teens and experts at it as adults. Consider...

Scenario A
A little boy, seven or eight years old, gets upset with a friend sitting across the bus aisle for saying something mean.  The little boy picks up his backpack and takes a swing at the friend.

The bus driver hears a commotion, glances in the rearview mirror and sees the little boy smacking his friend with the backpack, comes back to dispatch, and writes a discipline notice.  The notice is sent to the little boy's parents.

The boy's mother calls and demands that we expunge her son's record:  "This wasn't his fault.  His friend called him a pig and said he likes to eat slop." 

And the friend, wicked name caller that he is, deserved to be smacked with a full backpack?  A parent actually endorses physical retribution?

Scenario B
Sad for the puppy perpetually locked in her kennel because she doesn't like having snow touch her paws, Son 1 opens the kennel door and lets the puppy wander the house.  When he grabs jeans off the floor in his room, he discovers said puppy left a deposit.  He's annoyed, but not as much as his mother.

"It's not my fault," he offers. 

So the puppy, incapable of opening a door and fearful of the cold snow between her toes, was supposed to poo exactly where?

Scenario C
Married people have an affair. 

The participants in the affair both assert, "It wasn't my fault.  He/she pursued me."

And since they never learned to be responsible for their own actions, they lash those who love them with stinging pain.

Scenario D
A couple divorces, bitter and angry.  Each person, determined that the former spouse's new partner will not get anything, loses the most important thing:  relationships with progeny.

"It's not my fault... not my fault... not my fault...," is their endless refrain.

When everything that matters is lost, who cares who is at fault?

The only occasions I experienced true anger with either of my boys were those occasions when they tried to slink away from their own responsibility in any given situation.  The unintended result of insisting they bear their own responsibility is that neither of them allows others to assign blame to them when it's unwarranted.

I suggest we all revolt. 

Let's each stand up and own our own action and inaction. 

Let's bear our own responsibility so we can focus our energy on solving problems, repairing damage, and forging onward. 

Let's be the change we seek in the world.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Four Letter Words

Some days, there are not enough four letter words.

The end.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Wash of Grief

This morning I was working on Jakob's Christmas project with Joe.  We collected a fifty-piece set of quarters, one representing each state.  We recalled that mom had given the grandkids poster boards and started the collection for each of them.  We pulled those dusty boards out of storage. 

With a damp cloth, I wiped away years of dust.  I noticed a pattern on the three boards: each board was done through the end of 2007.  My mom kept those boards for each of the grandkids until she left her marriage and the life she'd built.  Grief - powerful and painful - washed through me in that instant of recognition. 

The conversation was something like this:

Me:  "You know what?"

Joe:  "You miss your mom."

Me:  "How did you know?"

Joe:  "I know you.  You complete me." 
Leave it to Joe to make me giggle when my heart is hurting.

Despite all the terrible things she's said and done, and continues to say and do, I sometimes miss my mom, especially when I remember how she loved my boys and Haleigh.  She did fun stuff with them, like collecting coins and making it an adventure.  It's especially poignant at this time of the year; she made their Christmases magical. 

The kids inscribed their names on their quarter boards.  This one is Haleigh's.

Haleigh left her board in Minnesota when she moved to Florida.  Haleigh was always Jakob's hero, with her his sun rose and set.  That was a long time ago now.  He left her a message on the back of her coin board, while she was making a new life in Florida and we had no notion she'd eventually come back to Minnesota.  "I miss you.  Jakob."  See it in the bottom right corner?

In Macbeth Act IV, Scene III, William Shakespeare writes, "Give sorrow words; the grief that does not speak whispers the o'er-fraught heart and bids it break."  I guess Jakob understood something about grief even at a young age.  He gave his sorrow words:  "I miss you."  Even though he left them in a secret corner of his world, I imagine they soothed his sweet heart.

And I guess today I do the same thing - give my grief words. 

It helps, or so says Pierre Corneille, a seventeenth century peer of Moliere:  "One often calms one's grief by recounting it."

Monday, December 13, 2010

Mission Nearly Accomplished (Or At Least the Hard Part)

I created a new blog this year, Nuttin' Like a Good Book, and promised to blog about the 200 books I planned to read this year.

Well, the blogging didn't yet happen.

But the books did. 

I've read more than 200 books this year.  And all the ones yet-to-be-blogged are crammed in the fish tank cabinet, piled on the kitchen table, and leaning in stacks against the bookshelves. 

I have from Saturday, December 18, until we leave for Hawaii to finish my project and blog about the rest of the books - or at least the really good ones.  On December 31, I'm giving away the books I'll never read again and shelving the ones I love. 

And, that, folks, is a lot of writing... and a lot of optimism.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Friday, December 10, 2010

Reinvention at 41

I've written often of the trauma my family has suffered - some of it similar to what other families experience (Adam's graduation) and some of it particular to my family (mother's issues). 

My mother left her home in December 2007.  It's now December 2010. 

What a difference three years makes.

I let myself be a victim of so many things other people were doing and somehow lost myself.  It took time to stop feeling buffeted and stand up in my own skin - and then it took more time to decide I wanted a different story.  The longest, most difficult part of the journey?  Taking the step forward necessary to reinvent myself.

I feel like I've taken the step.

I started school in September.  I've always wanted to be an historian - to be paid to spend my time thinking and theorizing and learning.  I'm on my way and loving every blessed minute of this long-awaited journey.

I stopped the habit of being a daughter, and became a woman.  I moved the needs of my family - the Joe-Adam-Jakob family - above the needs of my natal family and their daily work. 

I quit being a future business owner and started being an employee.  My family's business isn't the focus of my world anymore.  Gee.  It never should have been - and don't we all hate that "should" word?  I still care about what I do, but I care about it for eight hours a day rather than twenty-four.  Guess what?  The earth still revolves around the sun.

I committed to being the best wife I can be, and my husband tells me he's blessed.

I promised to let my boys go be men, and they are better men than I hoped they'd be.

I decided to care for myself.  To grow spiritually and not just do what feels safe.  To achieve strength of mind and not hide in diversion.  To develop a strong body and not abuse it because I can.  I'm in training and I love every minute of it (well, except the scale part).

I let myself be me in every way, including my hair color. 

Me in the morning.

Me in the afternoon.

And I'm happy with me because I think maybe what I've done is taken more than just a step.  Thank God. 

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Vacationing with the Energizer Bunny

Joe and I vacationing in Punta Cana.  My favorite
picture ever... from the best vacation ever. 2005.
Joe and I have a long history of vacationing together. 

In our teens, my parents invited Joe on working vacations to Galveston, North Carolina, Canada, and Chicago.  Then there were the fun trips to Mackinaw Island, the Keys, and a couple trips to Disney.  My brother loved having Joe with us.  I recall how their farting contests made Staci and I squeal. 

I went places with his family too.  We made a few trips to Iowa and somewhere his aunt and uncle lived.  Then there was the house boat trip when I thought we were going to die in a tornado.

Thanks to dad's offer of his time share, we honeymooned in Florida, spending the first part of the week at Ormond Beach and the second part at the Disney Inn, now leased to the military for ninety-nine years.  Nice for the military, not so nice for a nostalgic return-to-where-it-all-began trip for us.

Our boys benefitted from our love affair with Disney.  They've both been there several times. 

As the years passed, I longed for something different than the action-packed kiddie vacations we'd been taking.  My ideal vacation involves lots of history or lots of sun, sand, and water.  Joe's involves lots of activity - and by lots I mean action-packed times ninety-nine.

In 2004, Dad offered us a week in his time-share at Hilton Head Island, South Carolina.  Hilton Head offers something for both of us - I practically drooled over the thought of the historical mansions, Civil War sites, the Atlantic Ocean... Brochures showed all kinds of Energizer Bunny-friendly activity.  Without doing my now customary average temperature research, I packed for the warm southern clime and spent the week freezing and miserable.

"Never again!" I shouted to myself.  I might have screamed in my pillow a couple times.  I may have blasted Joe a few times with The Look.  As if it's his fault the weather was crap.

My beloved, always one to do what it takes to make me happy, finally agreed to leave the blessed United States, and the next year I got my heart's desire:  a trip to the Caribbean.  Punta Cana, Dominican Island, to be exact.  Even better, we traveled with two other families.  It was a week-long party. We all fell in love with the white beaches and blue, blue water.  I couldn't stand to miss a sun rise, so I don't think I slept later than 4:45 any morning. I felt like I was on the edge of the world as I watched the light spread across the horizon.

We've since tried other vacations.  We've been to Mazatlan four of the subsequent years and tried a cruise once (ick).  I didn't think we'd be able to vacation this year.  Adam and I are in college, so money's tight.  Jakob's playing basketball, so the schedule's tight.  Everyone has a different Spring Break, so someone wouldn't be able to go...

Guess what?  I was wrong! 

Joe surprised me with an anniversary present I wasn't expecting:  two tickets to Hawaii the first week of January!  For the first time in nearly twenty years, we are going to spend a week alone together - no kids, no friends - in what I hear is one of the most beautiful places on earth with an average daily temperature over 80 degrees.  I'm not even nervous about finding things for him to do (yet!) with all the waterfalls, beaches, volcanoes, and hula girls.  Even better, we depart in less than a month!

Boy am I glad I stayed married.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Everything I Need to Know

Robert Fulghum shared thoughts about what we learn in kindergarten that was popular when my boys were babies. 

Much of what he says is dead-on accurate, but he missed a few things.  Things like tell the truth, be authentic, run through life with your arms outspread screaming at the top of your lungs...  Other things like fugheddabutit when someone hurts you and dance in circles with those you love. 

I think he didn't say those things because he didn't have to say them.  Kindergarteners do all those things.  Not bad for us to have a reminder now and then.

All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten(Fulghum's cited at the end of his with a link to his site.)
All I really need to know about how to live and what to do and how to be I learned in kindergarten. Wisdom was not at the top of the graduate school mountain, but there in the sand pile at school.

These are the things I learned: Share everything. Play fair. Don't hit people. Put things back where you found them. Clean up your own mess. Don't take things that aren't yours. Say you're sorry when you hurt somebody. Wash your hands before you eat. Flush. Warm cookies and cold milk are good for you. Live a balanced life - learn some and think some and draw and paint and sing and dance and play and work every day some. Take a nap every afternoon. When you go out in the world, watch out for traffic, hold hands and stick together. Be aware of wonder. Remember the little seed in the Styrofoam cup: the roots go down and the plant goes up and nobody really knows how or why, but we are all like that. Goldfish and hamsters and white mice and even the little seed in the Styrofoam cup - they all die. So do we. And then remember the Dick-and-Jane books and the first word you learned - the biggest word of all - LOOK.

Everything you need to know is in there somewhere. The Golden Rule and love and basic sanitation. Ecology and politics and equality and sane living.

Take any one of those items and extrapolate it into sophisticated adult terms and apply it to your family life or your work or government or your world and it holds true and clear and firm. Think what a better world it would be if we all - the whole world - had cookies and milk at about 3 o'clock in the afternoon and then lay down with our blankies for a nap. Or if all governments had as a basic policy to always put things back where they found them and to clean up their own mess.

And it is still true, no matter how old you are, when you go out in the world, it is best to hold hands and stick together.
[Source: "ALL I REALLY NEED TO KNOW I LEARNED IN KINDERGARTEN" by Robert Fulghum. See his web site at ]

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Like the Woman at the Well...

Last night's Psalms Bible Study (a Jeff Cavins production) gets a "thumbs up" from me.  We talked about how our human nature leads us to fill our spiritual emptiness with things of the world instead of the gifts of the Spirit.
Cavins is always good at showing me connections between the Old and the New Testaments.  In this case, he draws forward from the psalmist to Jesus ministering to the woman at the well.  She was thirsting, and nothing could quench her thirst, not even her multitude of husbands.  Living in an arid region where water was precious, she carried what must have been one of the most important implements of the time, a water jug.  When Jesus spoke, she was spiritually ready to hear what He said, and rushed off to share the news, leaving her precious water jug behind.  He was offering living water and the promise that she'd never again thirst.

Reading one of my favorite blogs, Jamie the Very Worst Missionary, I came across her thoughts on the very same passage.  She writes:
[Jesus] broke all the rules.  I watched him sit in a market place braiding for himself a whip.  And when he was done... He went apeshit on a bunch of scumbags, overturning tables and going all Indiana Jones with that whip until the House of God had been restored to just that.  I watched him sit on the edge of a well in the countryside, where he had a quiet conversation with a sordid woman that would change her life and the lives of many around her.  In that little chat, he challenged her honesty and invited her to become one who worships God in spirit and in truth.  I watched Jesus tell stories.  I saw him talking to normal people about normal crap and point out God along the way.  And I started to realize that I had been created with a distinct voice and that God was calling me to use it, whispering, "Be who you are, Baby Girl.  I made you. You were meant to tell an honest story."
And now we approach the celebration of Christ's birth.  How would Jesus, the rule breaker, like us to celebrate His birthday?

Making wish lists of more things to clutter our lives?  Standing in lines waiting to purchase those things with people who are afraid to say "Happy Christmas" or acknowledge the season?  Spending our quiet time wondering how we're going to pay for all those things instead of being still and breathing in the wonder of God?  Indulging in food and wine and desserts until we can no longer button our jeans?  Rushing around to celebrate family and friends and skipping the inconvenient, time-consuming, and often crowded church services honoring His birth?

Dunno about you, but I'm screaming, "NO! NO! NO!"

And in the midst of my screaming and conforming to what's expected in the holiday season, I found a post titled "Rethinking Christmas" by Jennifer Davis.

A sample of her thoughts:
  • Let me be clear-I'm not opposed to presents, I'm not opposed to spending time with loves ones, and I'm certainly not opposed to the good cheer and good deeds that traditionally accompany Christmastime.  However I'm not sure that how we celebrate this holy day is in fact, holy...
  • While my family sits around a tree, ripping into gifts that we don't need, another family around the globe goes without water and the basic necessities we take for granted...
  • Christ did not come to make us comfortable... He came to seek and save the lost...
  • What if Christmas were known around the world as the time of year when Christians took care of all God's children...
  • What if the month of December were marked by Christians giving food and building wells as a means to show the world the Bread of Life who promises that we will never grow hungry or thirst...
  • I want to push past the mound of presents that I don't need to remember the only true treasure that I couldn't buy... 
  • I want His gift to be enough...
Ah.  Yes.  That resonates.

I have spent years trying to fill my own emptiness, one first created by a parent incapable of nurturing me, and later by a world sadly devoid of spirituality and full of commercialism and consumerism. 

How many of us have shared the same thoughts, ones that start, "If only..."

If only I had that pair of jeans, I'd be happy.

If only I were thinner, I'd be happy.

If only I could play the piano like he does, I'd be happy.

If only my kids got straight ehs, I'd be happy.

If only that friend were more honorable, I'd be happy.

If only...

     If only...

          If only...

Does the list ever end?

I'm glad I don't make "If only" statements anymore. 

And interestingly enough - though I still thirst - I'm actually happy.