Thanksgiving Nostalgia

My Aunt Arlene is my mother’s oldest sister. She and her husband Ken are the closest thing to grandparents on my mom’s side of the family that I ever knew. I have fond memories of staying with them while mom and dad were working and spending holidays and birthdays at their place when we were young.

Today, we packed the kids up, along with our dessert (thank you, Emeril, for the lovely Cranberry-Apple Crisp), and followed my parents up to Arlene and Ken’s for Thanksgiving dinner. As we traveled the two hours north toward the area where I spent my elementary school years, I was marveling at how much and yet how little I recognized on the trip.

It’s been roughly 20-25 years since I’ve lived in northern PA. Times change. Places change. There are Walmarts where there weren’t before and empty shells of broken buildings that used to be McDonald’s. The intersection of Tedd’s Landing has changed over time, but remains basically the same as in my memory.

When we pulled off of the main road and into the little towns between the highway and our destination, I was saddened to see the buildings with cracked windows, fractured like my memories of them. Paint peeling, removing the once-held beauty that still remained in my memory. The little store that the school bus used to stop at for penny candy on the way home from school on Friday’s has, not only changed hands so many times that I’ve lost track of whether it still exists, but isn’t even where I thought it was in my mental map.

Suddenly, as we turned onto entirely unfamiliar roads, I was struck with the realization that I had never been to my aunt and uncle’s house. See, not only had their towns changed over time, but so had their lives. The garage that my uncle had owned, with the soda machine outside for which my little brother and I used to beg quarters, and the little house that I “grew up in” next to it was no longer my aunt and uncle’s home.

So we went to a new house today. An unfamiliar house. A house that wasn’t my “home” as I remembered it. A house with a huge blow-up turkey outside. We thought we had the wrong house, except their name was on the mailbox. We laughed and teased my Mennonite Deacon uncle that the next time we visited we’d see Santa or the Easter Bunny, but he assured us he was merely “turkey sitting” for the out-of-town neighbors who insisted that our children would enjoy it.

It was a cute house, but it wasn’t “home” and I doubt it will ever be the same as visiting them in the old house. It’s a feeling much like I had the first time we visited them after their dog Heidi had passed away, the Australian Sheepdog they’d owned since before I was even born. Something was just missing or out of place. But it was much deeper, far more shattered and unsettling of a feeling, like the year after my cousin, Brenda, their only child had suddenly passed away.

At least some things have stayed the same. The women still belong in the kitchen and the men in the living room prior to the meal (except for me and my hubby – but that would be an entirely different post). My aunt’s stuffing is still the absolute best in the world. There are still leftover cold turkey sandwiches for supper. And there is still the ongoing friendly “rivalry” between me and my cousin’s husband Johnny.

All of this today just makes me wonder how many other things in my life have changed. How static is our past? Does it change based on how we remember it? If enough people believe that something happened in the past, can we assume it to be true? What is the difference between truth and reality and memory?

See what nostalgia does to me? Or maybe it’s just the tryptophan from the turkey.


Excuse Me If I Glow

My pastor said something to me on Sunday that confused me: "Did you know you're glowing today?"  I was too baffled to get all the rest but it was something like, "It's a nice change."  I must have mumbled a "Thanks" or something like that before I walked away, because the conversation was definitely over.

The confusion, however, has remained with me for the past couple days.  And the thing is, I've realized that he's right; he's never seen me like this before.  I've only known him for the past couple years, and I was already dead inside when he met me -- at least a part of me was.  

This same pastor sat across from me in his office just a couple months ago, with a highly concerned look on his face, asking me "You're not... suicidal, are you?" when I mentioned my tendency toward what I refer to as self-sabotage or self-destructive tendencies.  I might have actually laughed in his face; I don't remember (if I did, I'm sorry!).  I've never been suicidal in the sense of wanting to end my life -- and I told him that --  but I'm the queen of what I referred to as the "emotional suicide": The killing of the parts of me that I feel are "less than adequate" for one reason or another.  Granted this is not nearly as intentional all the time, nor as final as an actual suicide, but it was the best analogy I could come up with at the time.

There are three main parts of me that I've stifled over the years:
  1. My love of music. When I was in high school, I sang all the time.  I sang lead on the youth worship team, had solo parts in nearly every musical I was in, and could rarely be seen NOT singing something.  When I went to college, tried out for choir and was told that since I couldn't read music, they didn't want me.  This was a huge blow to me and my ego.  In a last ditch attempt to salvage that part of me, I took a music theory course, was told that since I wasn't a major, it didn't matter whether I "got it or not", and ended the semester with a "C".  For the next 10-11 years, the only time I sang (except for extremely rare occasions) was in the shower, or my car... alone!  
  2. My love of writing.  I ended up majoring in English in college with a concentration in writing.  I was published in several campus magazines, edited the feature section of the school paper, and was introduced by my favorite poetry professor as a "poet" to one of her colleagues at a dinner for the big-wigs.  After college, I got a job as a school librarian and taught creative writing for a couple years.  Then life happened, I stopped working for the school, and I stopped writing.  For the next 6-7 years, the only time I wrote anything was if I was directly asked to do so for job-related responsibilities.  
  3. My love of encouraging others -- the song that God gave me to sing.  This happened over time.  I don't even know how.  When you have a passion for pushing people to stretch beyond themselves to be the person (s)he created them to be, you get a lot of backlash.  People don't so much appreciate it.  So, over time, I just stopped.  And for however long it's been, this passion has been embroiled solely in cynicism, if and when I allow it to come out at all.  
So... recently, I've been revived in all of these areas.  I joined the worship team at church two years ago.  I started writing this blog in October and started writing a "novel" (which may or may not grow up to be that big, but time will tell) in November.  And now, I'm learning to sing my song again (whether you all wanna be pushed or not!).  

And with the singing, comes the life.  

I can't help it if I'm glowing; I'm finally feeling alive for the first time in years!


Snowy Silence

Snowy days were made for warm beverages, good books, and fuzzy blankets.  The type of snowy days we've been having the last couple days are the best kind ever.  No actual snow to shovel as it's not really laying on walks and roads.  Just enough to make everything white and pretty, and the big, white flakes floating fairly endlessly from the sky.

Snowy days are also great for thinking, for introspection... which I happen to be the master of lately.  So I've been thinking about relationships and things of that nature lately, a lot of which will end up in one form or another in my "novel", so I won't go into that all here.  But I've also been thinking a lot about my relationship with God.  I think I'm learning that the more I think I know, the less I know.  And I'm thinking I'm more than okay with that.

I'm reading the book "Silence" by Endo.  It's a historical novel about the persecution of missionaries in Japan and the struggle with God's silence in the face of torture.  It was referred to me by a friend who knows me well, someone who understands my struggles with God, church, and religious structures in general.  Someone who lives through the struggles as well.

So... I've been watching the silent snow fall and thinking about God.  And of the beauty of silence... and the pain of the silence.

Romance & Raindrops

So, I had a horrible week, yesterday in particular.  The icing on the cake was my hubby having to spend an extra hour+ at work yesterday afternoon.  So when life hands me lemons, I chose to make a romantic evening out of it.

Last night, we had a date night.  The kids have been cranky this week so they were both in bed by 7:30 (as much for mommy as for them) and I created an impromptu date for me and hubby here at home.  'Twas nice.  Got out the good dishes and champagne glasses (sans champagne, but it didn't matter).  Lit a few candles, started up the iTunes and created a Genius! romantic list.  We ate, we sang, we danced, we laughed, we cried (well I did at least), we talked and we just spent time together, something we both sorely needed.  It was one of the most romantic evenings we'd had in a while, and it was nice to remember who we were and what we meant to each other.

Today, we had a birthday celebration for our November birthdays at Jeff's aunt & uncle's place in Perry Country.  The trip is usually less than hours, but it's mountainous, and by the end, I'm always sick.  It was amazing however as we were headed out.  It was warm outside, but raindrops pattered out a semi-percussive beat on the windshield, brightly colored leaves painted a brilliant portrait against the gray clouded sky, and melancholic music filled the car.  I sat in the back with our son snuggled up next to me and our daughter sleeping soundly on the other side of him.  It was a brief moment of familial perfection that made me deliriously content... even if for only a few moments this morning.



My Gramma was just told last night that she is a good candidate for chemotherapy.  She's 84 (I think... I lose track honestly) years old, and frankly, I don't see it.  I mean, I just can't see her doing the chemo thing.  Not that I'm making a statement on whether she should or shouldn't... I just don't really see it.

Gramma has always been in good health.  When I'm in my 80s I hope to have even half her spunk and vitality.  She's got the typical ailments that tend to afflict the elderly: the aches, pains, coughs, etc.  But all in all, she's in good shape.  Until this summer, when she passed out on the bathroom floor in the middle of the night from internal bleeding.

Turns out that her problem was just a stomach ulcer that was aggravated (and possibly caused originally) by taking Aleeve for the pain in her back and legs so she could sleep.  However, while in the hospital, her heart started causing trouble, and then they did more and more tests, and somehow found cancer in her colon.

So after a surgery a couple weeks ago, a portion of the colon was removed and we waited FOREVER for results from pathology.  Well we got them.  And apparently some of the cancer had already spread to the lymph nodes or something (I'm fuzzy on the details) and her cancer is "Stage 2" whatever that means.

Now we wait for a further consultation where my father, my aunt, and my Gramma can sit down with an oncologist and discuss the options... Quantity vs. quality of life and all that jazz.  

Why am I having such a hard time with this?

I take after my Gramma.  My dad and I were looking at old photos one day.  He found one and held it up next to me.  "When did you pose for this one, Nean?" he asked me.  I looked at the photo of my grandmother in her early twenties.  Seriously, you could have done my hair up the same and put me in that dress and it coulda been me.

I owe my fighting spirit, my sense of humor, my feistiness and my need to question everything to my Gramma.  I owe my singing voice to her, my ability to harmonize and my love of all things musical to her.  There are few memories of Gramma's house when I was a child which didn't include her humming or singing something under her breath.

She taught me to quilt and make cookies.  She tried to teach me to sew (sorry, Gramma).  She taught me the love of sitting down with a board game and passing hours just talking and enjoying the thrill of friendly competition.  

She taught me that serving others means playing the part you're needed to play rather than the one you might want to play.  I was 12 (I think) when I learned this lesson.  The boys were all out "making hay" and I wanted to help.  Thing is (and Gramma knew this) I couldn't lift the bales and I woulda just been in the way.  The feminist inside of me wanted to show the boys I was every bit as good as they were... but Gramma insisted she needed my help in the kitchen.  And without the water I ran out to the barn every time they came in with the next load, they would have likely passed out from heat exhaustion.

Now Gramma isn't without her faults.  She's just like the rest of us.  She's human.  But she's my last remaining grandparent (aside from my in-laws) and she's always been there for me.  She was my nurse when I had to stay home sick from school as a kid.  I don't visit nearly as often as I should or I'd like to anymore, because life gets in the way, but she is always just a phone call away. 

So... today is a sucky day.  I'm thinking about Gramma and thinking the gray weather fits my mood.  It's a great day for sleeping this afternoon; I don't know that I'm much good for novel-writing today.  But maybe I'll give Gramma a call first, just to remind her that I love her.  And because I still can.


Lessons in Life and Love

Chill Winds of November
   for the last pepper

Once carefully tended

   on sparkled-sun kisses
   love from gray-black skies
   under careful caresses
   and softly babbled nothings

Once growing full and healthy
   with ripening beauty
   and long-held promises
   of full-life potential

Now reduced to nothing
Just a red, shriveled heart
   imposed on barren earth
Growth of love long past
   still it holds on

To something long dead

Someone Help Me Understand

Watch the video, please before reading the rest of this blog: Prop 8 Special Comment

I really need someone, anyone, to respond to this for me.  These are the same questions I ask.  I don't want rhetoric.  I don't want pat answers.  I don't want to be fed a party line or a religious creed.  I want to know why/how one can justify such hatred and intolerance with scripture.  If the bible is what you believe is your standard for measurement of action and motive, show me chapter and verse.  I want an intelligent conversation.  

Any personal attacks will NOT be posted.  I want real honest answers.  Because seriously people, these are the issues that matter and they are the issues that cause me to really struggle.  This is where I have no desire to be associated with "Christians".  And this is only one issue.

Please, someone help me understand.


Michelle For "Mom Of The Year"

There's a lot of political upheaval lately.  Everything on the spectrum of love to hate for the President Elect and his family.  Amazing times for our world; history in the making:
  • There is the obvious point of Obama being the first black president (and for that matter, the first non-white-male president) in US History.
  • A passion for politics has been re-ignited for the younger voters, and renewed hope has been offered to a lot of people who have been (up to this point) disenfranchised and disillusioned with American politics
  • Obama has proven that campaigning as it was previously done is no longer fully effective.  He ran the first positive ad campaign in recent history and made proper use of the internet as a grass-roots campaigning tool
  • Perhaps our status as a country will now switch to one that works WITH the world in which we live instead of AGAINST it.  I think we're looking at a new era in politics.
Throughout the election process, as a woman, I would get frequently frustrated by the reporters (mostly male, I might add) talking about Sarah Palin and Hillary Clinton being role models for women everywhere.  No thank you.  If I'm ever like either of them, just shoot me, please.  Talk about two opposite extremes that I'm not interested in being.

Michelle Obama is an amazing woman.  Regardless of how you feel about her husband and his politics, you have to admit, she's the ultimate MOM.  Michelle is a strong woman.  She is an intelligent woman.  She is a mom and a wife and an advisor in her own right to the future president of our country.  

She's talked openly about her struggles with balancing her home life and her work life.  She knows that her first responsibility, even as first lady in this country, is to her children, and she's working hard to make sure that her girls are "settled and that they know they will continue to be the center of our universe."   She's worked, she's stayed home with her kids, she's campaigned and still been home for her kids at bedtime.  

This woman is the kind of mom I'd love to be...  And maybe someday I will.  In the meantime, I'll get back to being a stay-at-home mom to my kids and let Michelle show me what it means to balance the weight of the world (literally in her husband's hands) and the needs of her two young daughters on the brink of adolescence.  

Behind every strong man, there is a stronger woman.  Welcome to the White House, Michelle.


What I Want For Christmas

Every few months, I entertain the notion (a flight of fancy really) of putting a sign in my front yard, "Come in; take what you want."  I get so overwhelmed with the "STUFF" we accumulate.  Our house has so little storage space and all I see is clutter when I look around my home: toys, papers, and miscellaneous paraphernalia (yeah, I just wanted to use that word, I think).

Every year, starting in October, the gift season starts at our house.  My birthday kicks off the festivities, followed by hubby's birthday a couple weeks later.  Both kids have their birthdays the week around Thanksgiving, and if we haven't accumulated enough new stuff by that time to be "thankful for", Christmas is just around the corner with a whole new batch of random objects filling our space.

My son actually stopped playing yesterday, sighed as he looked at the mess surrounding him, and then looked at my hubby and said, "Daddy, I have too many toys; I don't know what to do next."

And it's not that we don't have things we'd like to have.  There are things we want, because it's part of living in this world with the constantly changing stuff around us.  We'd like to have the latest and greatest gadgets and gizmos, sure.  But do we really NEED it?  Hubby would like a new winter coat and a graphic pad for his computer, I am always looking for new clothes, and the kids -- well, they're growing and could use some age-appropriate toys and clothes in their sizes.  But do we NEED any of those things? Probably not.  

How often do I complain about not having anything to wear, while standing and staring at a closet full of clothes?  How often do I stand in front of the full refrigerator or pantry closet and whine that I can't find anything to make for dinner?  And how often do I look around my house and complain about the massive piles of clutter that need to be cleaned up?

What do we want or need for Christmas?  Really?  It's the intangible stuff that I really want.  You want to get me something that really means something, here's what I'd like:
  • A weekend away with my hubby.  This requires the cooperation of his bosses, extra random money from... somewhere, and someone to agree to keep my kids for the weekend.
  • Money for the kid's savings accounts.  They need so little now, but the costs of education and other "big ticket" items for their future is climbing steadily.
  • Time & attention from people that we love.  I'd rather spend an afternoon sitting and chatting with you over a nice cuppa (pick your pleasure) than sending gifts back and forth making the mailmen miserable.
  • The ability to give -- and teach our kids the importance of giving sacrificially.  Money and time are tight for everyone.  Donate volunteer hours or money in our names to someone who truly needs help.  Pick an organization that you know we support or a cause that you know we're passionate about.  (Need some help: World Wildlife Federation, Bethany Christian Services, Water Street Rescue Mission, Susquehanna Valley Pregnancy Services... and that's just suggestions)
What DON'T we want for Christmas?  More stuff, just for the sake of giving gifts.  Somehow, random stuff means we're not truly understanding the greatest gift ever given: the sacrifice of every expectation and right.  We deserve nothing, but we think we do.  Christ deserved everything, but took nothing.  True giving means sacrificing for those we love -- not because they need it (even though they might) -- but because true giving is LOVE incarnate!


Tough Questions

Seeing Kisses

            For My Little Man


He opens his mind and looks right through me,

Sitting with silent tears falling on broken dreams

“Mommy,” he breathes from somewhere beside me

“Why can’t we see kisses?”


Annoyed, I pretend not to hear

His innocent question outside himself

So caught up in myself and my pain


“Mommy…” he persists, “Mommy!”

“Yes, Little One?” I answer wearily.

Then God opens his mouth and he asks me again,

“Why can’t you see my kisses?”


Stunned, I stop and look at my child.

“I don’t know, Love,” I finally answer,

“But I see them when I look at you.”

Pajama Holiday

I've been fighting a combination migraine/headache off and on all week.  It's enough to make me wanna scream, whine, cry, and run away.  Needless to say, I'm a little miserable this week.  

Then, yesterday afternoon, Little Man came down from afternoon Quiet Time complaining that his ear hurt.  At first I took it for an attention ploy on his part, as I've been preoccupied with doing... well... NOTHING this week.

As the afternoon wore on however, it became obvious that he was seriously not faking the pain and discomfort.  He would randomly wince in pain and spent the afternoon alternating between pushing me away and begging me to give him "mommy snuggles".  He wanted warm drinks, but didn't want to drink them until they were cold.  

To make a long story short, we took him to the doctor last night and he has an ear infection (duh!).  So, after an irritating trip to get antibiotics (the CVS drive-thru is anything but convenient; skip it and go to Giant!), we brought him home, gave him his new meds and some ibuprofen, and put him to bed.  He cried several times during the night and needed to be snuggled to calm down (he suffers night terrors when he's sick).

All of this led me to the conclusion that today should be a pajama holiday in our house.  My head still hurts and he's obviously not going to school today.  So... we're declaring a holiday and giving ourselves a break.  

This is as much for me as for him.  I was debating which blog to post this in, as it was mostly about family.  But I put it here for one simple reason.  I'm using this as a reminder to myself that it's okay to take a vacation when I need one.  

I've been really hard on myself lately: feeling bad for my utter lack of productivity this week, feeling like a less than adequate mother because I haven't been spending as much time with the kids this week, feeling like a bad wife because I haven't felt much like talking to my hubby out of sheer exhaustion by the time he gets home from work, even feeling like a bad friend because of my own self-absorption.

I don't do sick very well.  I tend to get all down on myself when I'm sick (as if I had any control over it).  I'm hard on myself all the time, but I think today is a good day to remember that it's okay to fail occasionally.  That a pajama holiday is necessary for my sanity (and my family's) every once in a while.

And really... who doesn't love pajamas when they don't feel well?



I'm working very hard to "reinvent myself" these days.  A lot of shifting has been going on in the past year that brings all this on: career, family, friends, and ultimately my attitude and mood.  A lot of these shifts have been good, some of them not-so-good.  But all are molding and shaping me into someone different and new... and hopefully -- eventually -- more mature.

About two weeks ago, I decided to participate in National Novel Writing Month.  This is something I've wanted to do for years.  It's never been practical, however.  When your busiest months of the year for work are March/April and November/December, trying to write a 50,000 word novel in the span of one of those busiest of months is ... a mark of insanity at best.   This year, however, aside from my family & child-care responsibilities (not to be underestimated of course), I have the freedom to explore this idea a bit.

Writing is a necessity for me.  I have to do it to sort things out in my head.  Otherwise I babble at people endlessly and they just get annoyed and walk away (usually mid-sentence).  Anyway, I've been thinking I should get back into writing again for a while.  It's been sadly lacking in my life.  Several people have mentioned to me (those that know these things about me), that I needed to write.

So I started up this blog, signed up for NaNoWriMo and started making sure I write SOMETHING everyday.  Even if no one else sees it.  I write.

I'd love to have a finished novel at the end of the month, but if not, there are few things that are more important to me:
  • That I've written at all
  • That I have 50,000 words logged for November -- whether it's all the novel or a combination of "words"
  • That I have finished something
  • That I learn a few things about myself in the process, and hopefully become a "better" person for it
I think I'm well on my way.  I seem to have stalled out slightly on my novel at the moment.  Partly because of a migraine I've been fighting for the past couple days.  Partly because I prefer short story and poetry (and I don't really like "filler") and at somewhere between 5-10K words, my story might actually be "complete" with a little tweaking.  Do I smack it into "novel submission"?  We'll see.  Depends on the muses, maybe.  We'll see where the characters wanna go.  And we'll see what else I decide might be more necessary to write this month.  Because I'd prefer to use this month as the "kick in the pants to get words down" that I think it was intended for, than just another "writing failure" that I can hold over my head.  My guilt complex is big enough already to add that to it yet.

So... we'll see where the muses take me.  I've got a couple... Right now, they're too busy arguing in my head to help me write anything.


Language Of The Soul

One way I talk with God is through music.  It's why I sing on the worship team at our church (about the only "church" thing I really do anymore).  And it's where I spend my moments with God, no matter what is going on in my life and leave feeling refreshed and renewed, as if I can handle anything life throws at me.

One thing I've learned about myself though is that it's not just "worship songs" that lead me to God.  In fact, aside from my time spent working on set lists for worship team, I rarely -- if ever -- listen to worship music.  With a few rare exceptions, I find a lot of worship music to be lacking in the artistry that I think God intended for us to use in worship.

I like the music that reaches down deep inside, that stirs the part of your soul that cannot be touched physically.  As I'm thinking about it, it's the intense stuff that speaks the loudest (and intense doesn't necessarily equal loud).  I can hear a song on the radio, that to all outward appearances has nothing at all to do with God, and find God there.  (S)he uses the language of music to speak to me and touch me in ways that no human can.

It sounds weird and mystical and new-age, and maybe it's all of those things, but that is what music is for me, the language of the soul.  It's like making love in the spiritual realm.  It's raw, harsh, and painful at times, but also soft, sweet, and beautiful, and maybe even both at the same time.

This weekend we went to see Trans-Siberian Orchestra with friends from college.  The experience for me was transcendent and I'm still basking in the afterglow.  I know it's all lights and special effects and music and theatre... but it was an encounter with the inner self and God for me.  It was purely sensual; I was on sensory overload when we left the concert.  But it was magic and passion.

I'm not trying to over-spiritualize the concert.  It wasn't all pure goodness and light.  There was an edge as well.  The dancers were sexy; the singers sent shivers up and down my spine.  The female violinist had the ability to make love to the audience without a single touch.  Guitars, drums, everything were LOUD and driving; Lights flashed in a migraine-inducing pattern at several parts... but one thing is certain.  I was alive -- suspended in reality perhaps -- but alive.

And THAT is true worship: an intimate transcendent experience with the lover of my soul!