Christmas Selfie Project

This year’s crop of family at Christmas.

Christmas is an exhausting week, or at very least an exhausting 48 hours. There are so many traditions and expectations tied to Christmas. But really, when you take away all the expectations and traditions, what it boils down to, at least for me, is family. Lots and lots of family. And it isn’t always the same crew every year. As our families grow, some aren’t always able to make it to ALL their gatherings in that short 48-hour time frame. Of course they are missed, but we all understand–Christmas is an impossible holiday to manage.

Because of this, I decided to try something new this year. I planned to embrace the chaos by taking a selfie with all the individuals I saw from my family this Christmas (sorry Uncle John, I somehow missed our selfie…I’ll take it next year). At these gatherings I typically think of them as a group of people…not this year. These crazy selfies made me stop and appreciate each and every individual in my life and what was unique and good about each person,  I embraced each individual as a gift and I’m treasuring these pictures as I’ve been shuffling through them on my phone this week.  (The selfies also gave me another great insight… I am going to make a more concerted effort to comb my hair on Christmas morning from now on.)

Merry Christmas family! Thanks for being the unique people that you are!

My Life as a Web Page

What if my life was a web page?  By day I am a web strategist …so of course it got me thinking. What if my life was represented on a home page? Would it be a good design?

First, you might ask, what makes a good design? There is no perfect answer to this question. It depends on the purpose of the site. There are visual design principles one might typically want to apply. Use of negative space, or white space, is one, for example. It adds balance to the page.

Web pages are built on grids. So I started with a 16-column grid and separated it into boxes to represent hours in a day.  If I were to represent my average day, how would it look? I figured out the areas of my life where I invest my time each day and laid it out on the grid to represent the hours spent.

Then I added some visuals to represent the activities that occur in those boxes.

Did this make a good life home page? It’s not bad, I suppose. I have a lot of boxes, so that means I have some variety in my life, but do I like the size of them?

What I noticed was pretty obvious. The very small 15 minutes worth of nothing—the white space.  These are super rare minutes in my life, but I know what they are. Sometimes they are the  minutes when I contemplate life before my eyes shut for the night. The minutes I spend writing a blog or sketching. Sometimes it is the minutes in my car—purposely sitting —not getting out quite yet. Or excusing myself from my office and sitting in the “quiet room” at work just trying to breathe for a few minutes where no one can see me. White space. And looking at this page, I think more of it might be needed. The activities of the white space get relegated to the footer of my life page, the less used but persistent “links” of my life – the soul time where I can create things, walk in nature, or just be.

Unfortunately, I can’t stretch the page like I can in the digital world and and make more time and create more white space. I must make one box smaller to make another bigger. I’m pretty sure I’ve pushed sleep to my limit at this point in my life. So that leaves the rest to try to jiggle around.

Granted these boxes aren’t perfectly labeled. Life isn’t this segmented. The Learn box could sometimes be labeled Play.  It just depends on the day. And I do Learn at Work sometimes, or Work when I Give. But generally speaking, the time averages are about the right size and I’m not sure I like what I see. The Work box is a tricky one. It’s not really an option to eliminate it, but change it….possibly…. dare I say….shrink it?  Yes. This could be considered. Do I need different boxes than the ones I have here? Does this design communicate my purpose? Does it say who I am or who I want to be? These are the questions I must ask myself.

That’s what the new year is for, right? To evaluate. Some of these frames are in need of growing and others in need of shrinking and I’m determined to find ways to do a little website redesign of my own in 2018.

Sleep in Heavenly Peace

sleepstar

Silent night.

Suicide is a logical option, but not a good one. This is #7 on my list of top ten midline crossings—things I’ve learned that have shaken my world and changed the way I act and live. I have neglected to write about this topic yet. I’ve started to on several occasions, but stopped. Today is the day.

I understand the option. I understand the logic and the rationality behind the decision. People may say it’s irrational, but I don’t think so.  It makes sense in so many ways. When you get a cut, you put on antibiotic ointment and a Band-Aid. You fix it. When you break a bone, you put on a cast. You fix it. When you are suffering inside, a place no one can see…a place no Band-Aid or cast can protect….there is a way to fix it. Quickly. Permanently. I get it. All can be calm, all can be bright….you can sleep in heavenly peace.

So if it is such a great fix for the pain, no different from a Band-Aid or a cast, why might it not be a good option? I think because the “fix” actually breaks things. A Band-Aid heals a cut, a cast heals a bone…suicide heals one wound, but in turn, creates many more. Band-Aids don’t do that. Band-Aids are personal. Suicide is not. It might feel like that, but it’s not. Suicide might be a logical fix, but not a good one.

All death brings pain to the survivors whether sudden or long-suffering. Tragic deaths are surprisingly painful—lives that seem to end too soon. Suicide is both tragic and long suffering. The long suffering just doesn’t often show on the outside, like cancer or heart disease. It’s a hidden kind of heart disease.

And now the suicide rate is at a 30-year high and has increased by 80% for white middle-aged women since 1999.

I’ve watched too many lives close to me, including my own, be hurt by suicide. Healing? Never. Scars? Yes. Never full healing. At least not in this life. Just scars. And this week I’m watching it, feeling it… again.  Can I be glad for my friend? Happy she found the peace she was looking for? Maybe…if I think about it logically…or from her point of view.  But I can’t see anything happy right now. Her pain has now turned into another wound on my heart. And there is nothing happy about it. It hurts. She couldn’t see what fixed her heart broke so many others.

It’s hard to see in the dark.

And now here we go again. It’s Christmastime. Flickering candles. Twinkly lights. Bright stars. It’s easy to start saying “if I only….” and to tell ourselves we just weren’t bright enough to shine light into her dark. These are the scars – the internal wounds we now carry.

As I stared blankly into the lights of my tree last night, it made me sad. One light is out. And it is missed. And yet…I know even the smallest light can illuminate dark places. So I’ll keep my light on, weak as it is today, and maybe give an extra hug to the middle-aged women in my life.

Story Time – The Adventure Continues

Our best bedtime stories never had a single word on a page.

A time-traveling elephant named Hubert Cumberdale. A teleporting oak tree and a prized German chocolate cake.

A city spared by aliens from a worldwide pandemic using magic stones, then destroyed because of human greed and power.

A slave who saves his master to gain freedom from natives on an island south of Iceland.

Sound interesting? It is. And it happens every Wednesday night in front of the fireplace at my house. Each Wednesday one member of my family is on point to tell a story. Next week, I’m in the spotlight.

My children were never into athletics or board games growing up. Instead, our family sport was storytelling.  At bedtime, after reading a book, our boys would congregate in one of their rooms for what we called “adventure stories.” My husband and I took turns telling the story each night using three random items given to us by our children. As my kids grew, they joined in the game and began telling the stories, too.

Now, years later, our young adult children have come back around on Wednesday nights to break bread and tell stories. Apparently, my husband and I weren’t the only ones who missed the creative family bonding time we enjoyed during their first 18 years.

We never wrote down any of the stories. We never will.  They will simply continue to feed our imaginations and fill our souls using a treasured family oral tradition. Attempting to write them down would turn joy into work.  The stories are simply shared and the chuckles and smiles in the remembering are more precious to me than the stories themselves.

Ripping Off the Band-Aid on a Mom’s Heart

Love in the Band-Aids.

Moms have it rough. Dads, too. But I can only speak from the mom POV. You don’t understand your mom until you are one—what it is to love someone so much and be so helpless when your kids are suffering. Love so strong you would gladly take their pain in trade. When children are small you can take them to doctors. You can put on Band-Aids. You can help them with homework. But when big problems happen, the things that Band-Aids and math flash cards won’t fix, we are left abandoned with emotions almost too hard to bear–especially when the world around us judges our momabilities from a point of view of complete and utter misunderstanding. You must stuff your emotions deep where the world can’t see them and courageously wear them only as scars on your heart.

  • What do you do when your child spends the first seven years of school either under a desk or banished to the corner of the classroom?
  • What do you do when your middle schooler spends three years paralyzed by OCD and can’t participate in any of the activities he used to love?
  • What do you do when your child tells you he doesn’t think he’ll live past 14?
  • Or when your kids are wrongly accused and punished for actions they DIDN’T take?
  • Or when they are punished and ostracized for actions they DID take?
  • Or when your child is so mad at the world that he is mad at you —the person who probably loves him the most?
  • Or when your kid’s lifelong dream of military service is crushed by injury?

You worry. You treat. You advocate. You helplessly advise. You seek help. You cry. You cry. You cry.

  • And what do you do when years later your son hands you a fluffy stuffed sheep, for no particular occasion, and tells you he thought of you when he saw it?
  • Or when your child profusely thanks you for grilling pork chops after a long work shift?

You cry. You cry. You cry. And you rip the Band-Aid off your heart and see that the scar doesn’t look quite as bad as it once did.

Your kids only know the childhood they lived through. They don’t compare it to the one in their mom’s dreams —the one where they were high-fived by a soccer team, or had a best friend, or went to camp like other kids. They only know their childhood. The one you held their hands through and made the best of. It’s the only one they’ve experienced. And they only know their mom, for better or worse, the only one they ever had.

48-Hour South Dakota Soul Safari

The sunrise greets the guardians of our campground, the American Bison.

It never ceases to amaze me what is possible to see and feel in less than 48 hours. Leaving Denver at 6:45 AM and returning the next evening at  6:00 PM, I managed to feel like I’d been far, far away on a soul safari. Wide open spaces and crepuscular moments will do that for you.

In an attempt to not let this summer slip away like last summer, I packed up the Cranberry Crush with her new tent and headed to South Dakota, a place I visited countless times as a child, but had never truly appreciated as an adult.

My experience blew me away. Not only did I see more than 100 pronghorn antelope (one with its two babies dancing merrily around it), I also saw wild turkeys, prairie dogs, bison, bighorn sheep, and  mountain goats. And I was sung to sleep by the howls of coyotes and the yips of their pups trying to imitate mom and dad. I’ve seen all of these animals before, but not quite like this — and not together. The wide open prairies in a National Park are magical. No fences. No houses. Just animals (and lots of them) roaming about as they wish.

Probably the most moving of all was the peaceful coexistence of camper and bison. The bison seemed to guard the campground. They owned it. And we all kept our respectable distance when they wandered through. Twice on my early morning mountain bike ride, I had to stop and wait for a bison to move before I could continue or wait for a car to come by so I could ride next to it for protection. When 2,000 pounds of bison are between you and your destination, you find another way.

Another spectacular crepuscular moment–sunset at the Sage Creek campground.

I was the first to leave the campground (on my mountain bike) and after carefully dodging bison and a swirling tornado of swallows, I was greeted by wild turkeys at this overlook in the Badlands.

I was moved by the beauty of the land and its creatures. But as I  hiked the popular Notch Trail in Badlands National Park, I was surprised at my emotional reaction as I saw a group of people coming toward us on the trail. They had just come up the steep ladder section and were traversing the narrow trail with a drop off to one side.

Boy Scouts. I knew it immediately.

My husband and I didn’t even need to discuss it. We’d both been around Boy Scouts for so long we can spot a troop a mile away. The boys at the front of the group were skipping over the rocks with ease and getting their buddies to take funny pictures. But as I kept going I witnessed something even more wonderful. The leaders, all three, were at the back of the group helping out one boy who was clearly scared of heights. With gentle encouragement they gave him pointers and blocked his “look down.” I was surprised by my reaction. As soon as I passed the four of them, I couldn’t breath. My heart was in my throat and I felt tears start to well up. My desire to work with youth has always been about this very moment. When I see, in action, adults walking alongside youth during their trials, failures, and successes— it hits me hard and it fires my passion for doing what I do. I was so glad to witness a bit of human nature as beautiful as the spires of rock around us.

My husband looks back at the ladder we climbed to get to the Notch Trail overlook.

An overlook of millions of years of geologic history is always a good way to end the day.

And my trip would not have been complete without a visit to Mt. Rushmore and to Rapid City, birthplace of my mom, and home to my great grandparents.  In a town full of summer tourists, I found my way out to sacred places that mattered most to me and brought them all home, tucked inside as precious memories.

Chapel of the Hills, an exact reproduction of the famous Borgund Stavkirke of Laerdal, Norway, is just a bike ride away down Rapid City, South Dakota’s main city pedestrian path. The meditation trail hidden behind the chapel offers a quite respite.

The last of the original historic terraces, looking out to Mt. Rushmore. Most of the original visitor infrastructure, including the visitor’s center and platform designed by my great grandfather, have been torn out and replaced. You can still see it, though if you watch Alfred Hitchcock’s North by Northwest.

My great grandparents lived in this little house in Rapid City well into their 90s. I can still picture my great grandma sitting in a metal chair on the front porch in her lightweight, summer flower-print dress reciting funny poems and rhymes to me.

Everything Changes

“Mud season” in the mountains — fewer people and an evolving glacial landscape marks time for me.

Some things never change. Not true. Everything changes. Some things just change at a glacial pace. No where helps me grasp this more than my frequent stays in  Breckenridge, Colorado—a town and environment I’ve watched change slowly over my entire life. I’ve watched Uncle Frank’s house turn into the Starbucks on Main Street. I’ve watched ski tickets go from $12 to $120.  I’ve watched restaurants make it and break it. I’ve watched my children turn from toddlers to men.

My sons named this magical place Rock Island more than 15 years ago. It is still the place they run to first when we visit Breckenridge.

Time changes everything. Sometimes we mourn the loss. Other times we rejoice in the new.  As I spent a crepuscular moment this Mother’s Day dawn sitting by a new beaver dam, I was giddy with excitement. I’ve never been able to examine a beaver dam so close before. It was remarkable. Those industrious rodents completely changed the landscape. They made  a whole new environment for a host of other creatures to inhabit. As much as I wanted to see a beaver, I knew my chances were slim, but I was able to watch a muskrat dart happily in and out of his home along the bank.

A stellar crepuscular moment and an amazing change to the stream on the way to Rock Island.

Changes sometimes happen so slowly they are hard to recognize, like the snow eroding away the mountains. Other times they are shockingly quick and life-altering, like this dam. I felt both today, as my feet post-holed into melting snow near Crystal Lake and as I listened to my grown sons now navigate their lives in their own way—a way that will change mine forever. I’m swimming in a new pond. It’s a pond they built for me. It’s different here. Everything changes.

This muskrat (crepuscular) takes advantage of the new pond created by his friend the beaver (nocturnal).

starbucks

It’s still a house, but it’s no longer a home.

 

Six Weeks of Everything

My mom often jokingly tells people I’ve taken “six weeks of everything.” For years I’ve wondered if that was a bad or good thing, like maybe it indicates I can never really work long enough to get good at anything. I’m pretty sure my mom never meant it that way. She likely just thinks it is a funny quirk of my personality that I have an insatiable desire to try things I find intriguing—not necessarily learn them to the point of mastery.

Just a few of the things I can or could get by doing:

  • Sign language
  • Writing children’s books
  • Twirling a baton
  • Speaking German
  • Swing/Salsa/Ballroom dancing
  • Taekwondo
  • Speaking Greek
  • Administering first aid to dogs/cats
  • Archery
  • Juggling
  • Film editing
  • Playing guitar
  • Doing CPR
  • Speaking Spanish
  • Sewing
  • Rock climbing
  • Directing live TV
  • Trapping and stuffing small mammals
  • Playing piano

….and I won’t even bother listing the long list of sports I’ve played or software programs I’ve learned. You get the picture.

Tonight I finished yet another six weeks of something. I can now write code in Ruby, a programming language. Before class, I watched a graduation of students from the coding academy who have spent the last seven grueling months building a marketable skill set. It was inspiring.

I, on the other hand, drove home quietly to no fanfare and without a marketable skill set…just six more weeks of something else behind my yellow Taekwondo belt.

But I’m thrilled.

I love tasting the world and broadening my lens. In fact, I’ve already signed up for my next six weeks…. JavaScript here I come! Then possibly oil painting or scuba diving….hmmmm….there are just so many things to try. I’ve decided that my life anthem must be “Try Everything” by Shikira from the movie Zootopia. It just fits. And it makes me happy when I hear it. It celebrates the trying, not the failing. It celebrates life the way I love to live it.

Seeing Thestrals

candle

Seeing something there that wasn’t there before.

As I’ve watched my friends grieve the death of those closest to them over the last several years, and more recently just this week, the idea of seeing Thestrals (Harry Potter-inspired magical creatures) suddenly became a lot more “real” to me.  According to the “wizarding world,” Thestrals (scary-looking flying horses) can only be seen by those who have been touched by death.

So is that a good thing or a bad thing? An honor, a blessing, a badge, or a curse?

Definition of a Thestral, according to J.K. Rowling: Manifesting as black, skeletal, bat-winged horses, but invisible to all who have never been truly touched by death, Thestrals have a somewhat macabre reputation. In centuries past the sight of them was regarded as unlucky; they have been hunted and ill-treated for many years, their true nature (which is kindly and gentle) being widely misunderstood. Thestrals are not marks of ill omen, nor (their spooky appearance notwithstanding) are they in any way threatening to humans, always allowing for the fright that the first sight of them tends to give the observer.

Today, a friend of mine preached a sermon on love where he told about the seasons of loss in his life (past, immediate, and future). Those losses were, are, and will be painful, yes, but they can also be an opportunity…an opportunity to give, recognize, and receive love in a deeper way than ever before. The more pain we experience, just maybe, translates to the more love we have the opportunity to experience as well. Strangely true.

Isn’t that just like a Thestral? The fear we have of pain and loss tends to give the pain a bad reputation–a reputation that it has nothing to offer but something evil or scary. Yet something kind and gentle is hidden beneath that scary exterior. And it isn’t until we experience great pain or loss that we are able to see something we’ve never seen before. When we open our eyes and hearts to it, we just might get the opportunity to deeply understand some of the greatest love of all and, in turn, be that kind of love to the world.

Oven-Killing Flaming Meatloaf and Sabbath Mode

oven

This is bad…but not as bad as the meatloaf.

A flaming meatloaf blew up my oven. At least that’s how I like to tell the story. However, the truth is the meatloaf was an innocent bystander and the oven decided to self-destruct all on its own.  Flames grew from the element and when the fire department arrived the oven temperature topped at 1000 degrees.

The electric range/oven now sits alone and sad in my garage and a gaping hole still remains, almost a month later, in my kitchen. Researching ovens has taken a backseat to work travel, work projects, volunteer commitments, and family. But today is the day! I am tired of cooking eggs on my barbecue grill and eating cold pizza.

While researching ovens, I discovered an amazing thing –they come with a Sabbath mode. I never knew appliances had Sabbath modes! I kind of thought that’s the mode I have been in since the fire—a break from my oven and range —Sabbath mode.

Turns out Sabbath mode is a feature in many modern home appliances, which is intended to allow the equipment to be used (subject to various constraints) by Shabbat-observant Jews on the Sabbath and Jewish holidays.

So how does Sabbath mode work?

Orthodox Jews believe you shouldn’t work on the Sabbath. That includes cooking raw meat by turning on an oven. You can, however, warm up something that is already cooked. In the olden days, starting a fire and doing all the prep for cooking was a lot of work.  So, on the Sabbath, the fire was just kept burning so warming of food could occur without “working” to make a new fire. So, in Sabbath mode on modern ovens, the automatic 12-hour safety shutoff is disabled…thereby keeping the “fire” hot so you don’t have to physically turn the oven on once the Sabbath starts..

So technically (according to Jewish law), I haven’t been working (with my oven) for 25 days. That’s a long Sabbath. Funny thing is…I don’t feel rested. For me modern appliances take away work, not create work. My mom always told me when housework and the world seems overwhelming, start by getting all the machines working for you. It is how I start most weekends. Get something cooking, turn on the washing machine, run the dishwasher and…voila! Within minutes I feel like Mickey Mouse in the Sorcerer’s Apprentice with an army of brooms.

I am happy to report the electric range and oven arrives on Monday. I have a new appreciation for this appliance. For me, I’ll now consider EVERY mode it has a Sabbath mode.