Wednesday, October 8, 2014

These are a few of my favorite things....

My youngest daughter's hair in the morning, a bed-headish work of messy art.  Just the right amount of wasabi in your soy sauce to accompany your spicy tuna rolls.  The ridiculous way my mom can't quite figure out how to answer the phone, "hello, hello, HELLO" or silence.  The way my son over-exaggerates my husband's African accent for effect when he tells stories.  "When I was a boy growing up in Africa,....".  Friends that show up at your doorstep when something goes wrong.  Sometimes bearing fudge, sometimes bearing orchids, sometimes bearing lip gloss, and sometimes they bear hugs without saying a word. Being female with limitless depths of strength, resilience, and emotion. Hips.  Feminine energy.  Masculine energy. Good mojo.  Karma.

The collective vibration of a crowd; that palpable, electric energy that hovers just above.  CARROT CAKE, enough said.  Forearms, also enough said.  When the bass drops.  Waking up with your friends on a girls' trip and talking about the night before.  Finally living in the era of the big booty. Concealer and hair product.  Watching your daughters dance. Sunsets....and rainbows....and butterflies.  Super Soul Sunday. My husband's rocking body.  Can I get an Amen?

My dad's silver hair and great big ears.  Inappropriate rap music.  Ketel One.  That moment when the night takes a turn and you realize you are all calling a cab and nobody's leaving early.  Laughter.  Non-judgmental people.  Compassion.  Friends you can text with no notice that will pick your kids up and trust you to do the same. Being a Kansas girl smack in the middle of this big, wide world. Global thinking...."it's a small world after all"..."one love". Banter and witty conversation.  People that make you feel and think on a higher level.  People that are your break from thinking.  People that don't take themselves too seriously.

Unconditional love.  Long lasting love.  The arts, the artists.  Family.  Drag bingo.  Super grumpy old people.  Kids that wear crazy mismatched stuff or red galoshes for a whole year.  People that just don't give a damn about what other people think.  Teenagers with wild ideas and wide-eyed dreams.  Ridiculous hand- written cards.  Lil Wayne and Elizabeth Gilbert.  Watching my babies sleep, even at 14, 11, and 7. Those moments when all of the sudden you are so filled with gratitude to be along for this ride...for no good reason other than the enormity of that just hits you sometimes.  Words...and wonder....and bounding awareness. Just a few of my favorite things.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Ghana Chronicles: Now THAT'S Church!

As many of you know, we made a ginormous trip to my husband's homeland last year for his mother's burial and celebration of life.  As with most things, time has a way of softening memories and that is the case with our trip to Ghana.  I equate it to childbirth where you barely remember the hours of pain and hard work when they place that little delicious bundle in your arms. In this case, I barely remember getting puked on en route numerous times due to an air sick child.  I faintly recall the utter sleep deprivation.  I have blocked out the crack-like cravings for one bite of American food.  Or the swollen ankles, horrendous stomach churning, running the girls by ipad light to the one restroom in the middle of the night after the generator went out again.  All challenges associated with being in a "developing country".  The roads, the lack of information I had, the lack of a blow dryer and hot water ya'll.  Okay so I haven't forgotten, but what I have done is remembered the enormity of the amazing times more.  I honestly am still processing the magnitude of the whole experience over a year later.  I have stories in my belly for days and they are likely to unfold but if you ask any of my three kids or myself what was the best thing we will all say the same thing.  Church.

Yep, church.  4:30 a.m., roll down the hill from the house to the church, maybe you had time to brush your teeth, maybe you didn't, maybe you had time to put on a bra, maybe you didn't.  Sleepy, semi- coherent cousins, siblings, and spouses one waking up the next to walk in a quiet and moonlit  parade full of faith and love to attend church most every morning. The church was nestled amidst vivid green vegetation in the family's ancestral village and was built just for his mom who was herself a renowned minister and pillar of the community. There were many hours we spent there in traditional attire holding formal, traditional service but it didn't hold a candle to the times we gathered at 4:30 in the morning.

At 4:30 in the morning, the experience was entirely organic.  There was nary a plan or agenda, only one prayer that naturally led into the next and one melodic song that rolled into another.  There was dancing...non-stop dancing...and singing...and  greeting one another...and hugs...and hand holding.  There was joy and grief and deeply felt faith.  There was family.  There was commonality found despite the weight of a very heavy reason for gathering that week.  There was the feeling that Grandma Lydia's legacy was in each and every prayer and person there.

As a person that has never embraced organized religion and that holds a set of beliefs that have to do with connectedness, positivity, and finding common ground while honoring our differences...I felt it.  I felt right there that there was a direct line from that church in the village surrounded by family, to something bigger than all of us.  The collective energy that lifts us up and out and makes us transcend and be better people.  It was deep and humbling and heart felt.  You can call it what you want.  Call it God, call it religion.  It didn't need a name to me.

Each morning after the last song and embrace wrapped up, we would make the trek back up the hill to the sound of roosters crowing and the sun rising over the village.  Each morning we left closer and more connected and ready to start the day.  That often meant me pining for a latte, bitching about sharing one cold shower, and resisting things outside my comfort zone....but holding on tight to the moments of ethereal transcendence.  Now THAT'S church.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

The Essence of Fireflies, coveting things that shine

Last night I was catching fireflies with Maya.  Our techniques were vastly different.  Hers was the run and swoop, just go for it and see what you can grab up.  Mine was more contemplative, hovering, observing, only expending energy on certain ones. Each technique reflective of our ages or maybe our life experience. 

She captured several and collected them in her vintage blue mason jar with the intent she would have twinkling firefly light to sleep by.  To her dismay she discovered that upon capture, the fireflies stopped blinking.  Maya immediately went in to fix-it mode.  She asked them what was wrong.  Were they sick?  She inquired if they were hungry and we set about researching what fireflies eat.  She thought maybe if only we caught more so they would have company, then they would shine again.  She cradled the jar, hugged it with all her might, and even sang the fireflies songs.  She spoke lovingly to them, she patted the jar, but still no twinkle.  Her final conclusion was that the fireflies just must not like her.  The whole process was like watching a teenage girl vying for the attention of some unattainable object of desire.  Or maybe like a dejected spouse grasping at how to keep the other one happy.  All the while, her interest in the fireflies was more about her disappointment in the fact that they were no longer blinking and would now make terrible nightlights.  Less about their welfare.

We talked about how the essence of a firefly is to be free, once captured you have interfered with its mojo, its kismet, its bioluminescence.  Perhaps it will still shine for you or perhaps it will be bitter, confused, incapable of emitting that light you were drawn to.  I told her if she really loved the firefly then she should love it equally when it shines as when it clings to the side of the jar dark and confused. However if she only loved the firefly for what it did for her, in this instance to be her nightlight, then the fireflies would be better off being set free.

We covet things that shine. We are drawn to romantic love, sunsets, full moons, and happiness.  Some are enticed by flashy cars or fancy trips. Like fish going for the shiniest lure. We have a tendency to want to capture the shine for ourselves instead of just enjoying the view. Never mind that the real depth and work begins when the sparkle wears off.

After much internal conflict, Maya decided to set her captives free.  We loosened the lid, gently shook them to the ground, watched them spread their wings, and fly back into the night sky. We didn't wait for them to start blinking again but went to bed knowing we had done the right thing.  After all, luminosity is best savored but not restrained.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Together we make up a wardrobe...and I'm the sweatshirt. (a non-scientific study of friendships)

Philosophers come in all shapes and sizes, circles, and at times pop up where you least expect them.  Sometimes they come in the form of a dear friend with a floppy ponytail, no real knowledge of where their cell phone or keys are,  and a wonderfully charming way of looking at things. I happen to have a friend like this and she once shared with me a belief she has about friends, and I think she might be on to something.

She believes that friends are representative of pieces of attire and that together those around you make up an entire wardrobe.  Some friends are like a starched button-down dress shirt, for instance.  These are the ones that know exactly who teaches which cardio-blast class on what day, and who sent peanut butter cookies to the peanut-free room party.  Efficient task-masters, the buttoned-down comrades, but good to know.  Other friends are like that sexy pair of heels that you love to wear, but only on occasion.  These friends are fun for a night out, to get dressed up with, chat and drink cocktails, but would just be too tiring and painful if you kept company with them full time.  You may trade timeshares with them but never your darkest secrets. Chances are you might have a pal that is like a concert t-shirt, a little bit too wild, too loud,  but a really good time.  You might not call them first to go to church on Sunday or your family reunion but if you need somebody scrappy on your side, you auto-dial them with a quickness. Hopefully you have a couple sidekicks that are like your go-to pair of jeans, they make your great, you can wear them anywhere, dress them up or down.  These friends are predictable, consistent, and good for all occasions. It's possible to be a pair of resilient combat boots, a reserved pearl necklace, a wise hand-knitted sweater, or supportive sports bra. I think my friend the philosopher is most like a pair of Ray Bans.  Sunny and bright, cheerful, worn on the funnest of days.

As for me, a resounding theme keeps cropping up. She told me that I was like her very favorite sweatshirt.  It didn't matter what she looked like or what kind of day she had. Whenever she put on her favorite sweatshirt it was always comfortable, always fit just right, and always made her feel good. Apparently this is my lot in life, my niche so to speak. Old comfy unpretentious sweatshirt.  It wasn't the first time I'd been compared to something similar. I once was told that I was "just as comfortable as an old shoe".  An old shoe...what the hell?  In the confines of a five minute business call to the corporate office, with a woman whom I'd never met,  this person was inviting me to lunch and calling me a shoe. I grinned ear to ear and my heart swelled with be a shoe, an old comfortable shoe. Some might be insulted or off put by these analogies, preferring to be likened to something more glamorous or more fetching.  Not me. To me there is no greater compliment than being some one's favorite comfy sweatshirt or trusted pair of shoes.

The thought has occurred to me that this friendship philosophy is rather fluid. We likely serve different roles with different friends.  To one friend I might be that Bon Jovi tee that screams "I rocked your ass off" and to the next person I might be a pair of diamond earrings.  It's all relative.  Furthermore, I have friends that one day are my sweatpants, another day my business suit, and the next day are my cheer leading uniform. Sometimes all in the same conversation. The greatest part is that together we make up a wardrobe...or at least that's what my friend, the pony-tailed philosopher, thinks, and I think she's on to something.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

So, this is the middle?

Coming at you live....from the middle years, the Midwest, the middle of my mid-life crisis. I don't mean the kind of mid-life crisis where you get a "Live to Ride" tattoo emblazoned on your back, buy a hippie bus or a red sports car, and a run away with a cabana boy.  You are welcome, honey. I mean the kind where you wake up one day and say, "Now what?" or maybe "Is this really what it's all about?" or "There has to be more". This is the middle decade, the decade where your children  no longer physically need you as much and the one before your parents do.  I love this decade, I just don't quite know what to do with it.

The forties came in like a lion.  I had a renewed love affair with the elliptical machine and Ketel One, I found delight in the new found freedom of having "big kids".  I felt the need to live this decade up while my gray still sort of responds to bleach and my butt still sort of responds to squats.  My kids are no longer babies but years from being out of the nest, my parents are in good health.  This decade is the one.  The one to seize.  The one to take stock, what have I done so far and what do I want to do with the rest?  After sacrificing sleep, your identity, and your body in the early child rearing years....lovingly and tend to lose sight of who you are and what you stand for.  Then you wake up one day and realize these babies will one day have their own lives apart from you and that day is inching closer every second.  Then you lose another best friend and the shit just got real. You realize your days are not infinite and you realize you better get busy deciding how you want to spend the next half of  this thing called life. (Cue the Prince song)

Now while looking 42 dead in the eyes, I recognize this restlessness as a yearning for something deeper.  Maybe we just all need more of the F word.  Fulfillment, people, fulfillment. I have learned where fulfillment is not.  It's not in that greasy plate of cheesy fries telling each other sad stories after a night at Power and Light went mostly wrong, it's not in that last Fireball shot after you have already had one too many, it's not in saying yes to an obligation you knew you should say no to, it's not in a paycheck that gave you more headaches than gratification (learned that lesson the hard way), it's not in that last day of carbs on a Sunday when you start the 17 Day Diet on Monday (for the 17th time). The pull is not towards a life filled with pondering existentialism over a Venti Skinny Vanilla Latte, hold the whip.  The pull is to figure out what makes you feel more deeply, more gratitude, more joy, more alive, how to do more good...more often?

Maybe fulfillment comes in small doses.  Maybe we just get fleeting moments of it and that is enough?  Maybe it is that moment when your teenager is not embarrassed to introduce you to his friends at a football game, when your husband believes you can do something more than you believe yourself, when you realize your parents are still your safe haven even at this age, when your friends will pull a Pinterest all-nighter with you when your heart is at its lowest sending you pins proving they know this ache intimately themselves and then another pin so inappropriate that you can't help but belly laugh out loud.  Maybe it is when you catch a glimpse of the sunset and it takes your breath away or it's found in long overdue conversation by a foggy creek bed in the wee hours of the night turning to morning.  Maybe it is 4:30 am church deep in the village of another continent, where fatigue and fellowship melt right into one melodic song and roll into the next.  Maybe fulfillment is knowing that you are raising three really good human beings that will someday stop and wonder how to best spend their days, get the most out of life, do the most good.  Maybe fulfillment isn't your heart firing on all cylinders all the time, maybe it is more subtle.  All I really know is that this part is full of possibilities and I plan on surrendering to and seizing the middle.