I Choose Joy: A Week of Joy

In early December, my children and I were driving home from a late night rehearsal in Littleton. When I say Littleton, I mean as-far-away-as-one-can-get-from-Parker-Littleton. We were all in horrid moods. Madeleine and Max were fighting, and I was tired of listening to whiny children after a day of teaching.
“Stop!” I yelled. Their voices quieted immediately. “Guys, we’re being ridiculous. We all need to stop. Let’s choose joy instead.”
Max, who was particularly tired from late night tech week rehearsals, continued to whine, so I asked Madeleine, “What did you do to choose joy today?”
She talked of playing her cello in orchestra and dancing in musical theatre. Immediately her stern face gave way to a bright, beaming smile.
“What about you, Max?” He paused. “Well, today…”
Frankly, I don’t remember what he said, but that’s not what is important. Every day since then, I have asked my children, “How did you choose joy today?”  The love telling me about what makes them truly happy, and it brings me so much pleasure to hear them share their joy.
This is a challenge for myself too. I tend to get wrapped up in what needs to be done and what hangs looming over my head. Instead, I need to stop and choose to do or focus on what gives me joy.  I’m tired of not living the joy-filled life that I want.
 
This is a really long introduction to say that every day this week, I will be posting what I have done to choose joy.
 
Joy Choice #1: Today I finished the first sock of a pretty pair.  Knitting brings me happiness.  I love the feel of fine sock yarn between my fingers.  I like the way the loops join row-by-row interlocking around each other like mini fingers. I love a finished project–when all those minutes, hours, days, weeks, etc. of work finally come together into something that I hope will bring someone else happiness.  The same kind of happiness is brought me to make it.
 
How did you choose joy today?
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Warning: Spontaneous Emotions May Overflow

 

Today my dad would have been 75.  I didn’t realize it right away.  As every morning, I became caught up in my routine.  I woke, showered, ate, drove to school–the same as every weekday morning.

It wasn’t until a student came to me for a pass to work on Shakespeare scenes during homeroom when it hit me.

“Today is April…” I hesitated trying to remember what yesterday had been.

“The 25th,” she said.

I paused and jotted the number down as the realization came and my eyes burned with the holding back of preliminary tears.

“Here ya go,” I said quickly and handed her the small green paper.

I held my breath as she left and then released it slowly.

My morning went on as usual.  During my planning time, I checked my phone including a quick review of Facebook.  There it was again.  The reminder.  It’s his birthday.  I quickly tucked my phone away.  I wasn’t ready to deal with the full range of emotions such a realization brings.

And I went on with my day.  I talked about totalitarian governments.  A student brought up her father’s own involvement with air force intelligence during a brief discussion on spies.  There it was again.  I remembered you had done that too.  I answered her questions and moved on.

I taught Shakespeare.  Miranda proposed to Ferdinand, and Prospero expressed his happiness.  Students eagerly asked me about my proposal, and I told the story of how Jedidiah asked my father’s permission.  Jedidiah had asked, and he said, “Are you sure?”  It’s one of my favorite stories to tell.  And there it was again.

Once my day was over, I came home and looked at the calendar.  There it was.  Your picture and no longer just a birthdate and year…there was the death year.  There was such a finality to it.  Then I finally cried.  All of it, out like a flood.  I sobbed.  My throat burned and felt tight.  It hurt to swallow.  There it was again…finally.

And even though it’s your birthday, Dad, it’s there every day.  That reminder that you were, and then suddenly you were not.

I think of you every day.  Some days are just harder than others.  Today is always one of those days.

Little Brother

Good morning, Little Brother,

It’s hard to believe it’s been 10 years since I’ve seen you.  I still remember the last time we were together, hanging out on the porch with Dad.  It was late fall, and he was sweeping the leaves from the tile on the porch.  I had just told you that you were going to have a niece.

I still remember when I heard. Jedidiah’s reaching for the cell phone in the car roused me from my half sleep.  He looked so alarmed but gave no clue as to why.  I knew something was wrong–the way he urgently asked Bobby questions and slowly pulled the car over.  My first thought was something had happened to Dad.  You weren’t even on my radar.  You were a cat with nine lives.  You were always convinced you were invincible.  I guess somehow you had convinced me too.

It’s hard to lose a sibling–your only sibling.  Who knows you like that?  Who else knows and understands those childhood secrets and dreams?  The mischievous plans forged through walkie talkies and late nights?  The sneaking down the hall to see what grownup shows the parents watched? From the moment one of you is born, a relationship like no other is forged–especially if it’s just the two of you.  I felt like David losing Jonathan.  I still feel like that sometimes–whenever I hear “Somewhere Out There” or “Ice, Ice, Baby.”  You’re the only one who  could know or understand because you lived my childhood with me.

You never had the chance to meet your niece and nephew.  You would be so proud of Madeleine.  Her brilliance would blow you away, and you would tell her just how much she is like me.  And Max?  He reminds me every day of you.  You would have been the first person he would have called when he scored his first soccer goal this year.  I look at him, and I see you.  It helps.

So today, ten years later, I want you to know I miss you.  I miss you every day.  In honor, maybe I’ll give our old friend Coconut a call.  She probably misses you too.

**Please take a moment to remember those whose lives have been changed by suicide today.**

 

One Label is Enough–You’re a Mom.

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I’m still not sure how to answer this question . . . “I’m a chef, counselor, educator, coach, stylist, accountant, and personal shopper, what do you do?” Or I could give the shorter, more to-the-point answer: “I’m a stay-at-home-mom.”

Statements like this bother me.  The statement is an excerpt from a blog about choosing to be a stay-at-home mom. This woman may perform some of those functions, but she is not a stylist in the same sense as someone who is licensed to practice cosmetology.  She does not have a CPA; therefore, she is not an accountant.  She didn’t go to culinary school—not a chef.  She doesn’t have a license to practice counseling…get my point?   She is a mother who performs some of those functions, like all mothers do, whether we choose to work or not.

Somehow, this writer believes that stay-at-home moms have gotten a bad rap.  Then there’s me on the other side feeling that because I’ve chosen to go to work everyday that I’ve gotten the bad mom rap.  ENOUGH!

It doesn’t matter.  One of the joys of being a woman and being a mom is that you get to make a choice.  Own it.  Stop complaining about how you feel shame about your choice.  Stop undermining yourself by thinking you need to make what you do somehow sound bigger or more special than what it may seem to you or your perspective of how the world views you. Stop reasoning with yourself or others about why you made that choice.  You are a mother.  And as one nyself, I  say that’s special enough.

 

 

My Favorite Singer

I come from a very musical family.  I grew up singing in church. My family would often arrive at church early in the afternoon on Sunday evenings to practice.  My grandmother, uncle, and parents would work on gospel quartet tunes.  For me, “Daddy Sang Bass, Mama Sang Tenor” was a reality. I myself began soloing in church at eight years old and participated in competitions every spring.  I spent most of my adulthood studying music or performing, and I knew when I had children I wanted them to sing too. I fantasized about us all playing an instrument and forming a family band, not too unlike The Partridge Family–only better.  I knew when I had a son, I wanted him to sound like Thomas Hampson, growing up to sing all these amazing baritone opera roles.  He’ll have the most beautiful voice, and all the ladies will swoon, I thought. Continue reading

10 Things I Love about Being a Geek Girl Married to a Geek Boy

geek girl and boy(He’s going to punish me for that boy comment, but “Geek Girl” sounded better than “Geek Woman.”  I’m all for parallelism.)

Looks like this is a week for lists!  Yay!  I LOVE lists!

Denver Comic Con is this week.  It begins tomorrow, and I’m very excited.  I’ve already booked my photo op with John Barrowman.  Can’t wait for that one!  I also have my eyes on an LOTR ocarina.  Since The Hobbit is on my book list for middle school next year, I just really feel like I need this to bring the experience to life for my students.  Right?!? Continue reading

Black-eyed Pea Picking

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I recently finished teaching Seamus Heaney’s poem “Blackberry Picking” to my AP English class.  It’s one of my favorite poems. It touches so strongly on some of my own childhood memories.   When I was five years old, we moved to Azle, Texas.  Azle was very different from the flat, empty north Texas environment where I had spent the beginning of my life.  Even though a child, I could still appreciate the aesthetic difference. It was greener.  It spread out with bushes and trees and life.   We lived in a small housing development of the just-budding suburb of Forth Worth.  In our small backyard, we had trees to climb, places to hide, and a natural sandbox to dig.  The dirt would turn red, and my brother and I dreamed up scenarios of digging to Hell to kill the devil and rid the world of evil for once and for all.  We spent a lot of time in the backyard, but occasionally my mother would take us to the woods behind our privacy fence.  It was on those trails where my brother learned to ride a bike, and we would pick wild blackberries.

This is my favorite memory of that time.  A blackberry cobbler is a sweet reminder of that innocence gone by.  If I could travel in time, I would certainly go back there. But memories are all that remain, not the physical pleasure of eating blackberries.  It can only be recalled not recaptured.

Picking fruits and vegetables seem a common theme in my most precious memories.  Maybe it’s because my family spent so much time in the kitchen when I was growing up.  We picked together, canned together, cooked together, ate together.  This is what I remember and hold on to.

Shelling black-eyed peas is one of the last quality moments where I got to be with my dad–before he got sick, before the cancer ate him away.   We had visited the farmer’s market just outside of town where we purchased two bushels of black-eyed peas.  We sat on the back porch.  All his grandchildren were with him, seated at his feet in a circle with their own portions of peas and small bowls.  We shelled peas, listened to classic country, and filled our own “milk cans, pea tins, and jam pots.”  He recounted for me much of my family history, what he had uncovered in his years of genealogical research.  For what I remember, despite the acute summer heat, it was perfect.

The next day we pulled out the pressure cooker and canned them.  I brought cases of jars back to Colorado to eat during the school year when snow would cover the ground and I would want a meal that tasted like home.  Even before we know how sick he was, I would ration out these jars.  They were special.  I  had to make them last until next year when we would gather on my parent’s porch and work on another bushel or two.

I had one jar left when he passed. “Each year I [hope] they’d keep, knew that they would not.”

Blackberry-Picking

BY SEAMUS HEANEY

for Philip Hobsbaum

Late August, given heavy rain and sun
For a full week, the blackberries would ripen.
At first, just one, a glossy purple clot
Among others, red, green, hard as a knot.
You ate that first one and its flesh was sweet
Like thickened wine: summer’s blood was in it
Leaving stains upon the tongue and lust for
Picking. Then red ones inked up and that hunger
Sent us out with milk cans, pea tins, jam-pots
Where briars scratched and wet grass bleached our boots.
Round hayfields, cornfields and potato-drills
We trekked and picked until the cans were full,
Until the tinkling bottom had been covered
With green ones, and on top big dark blobs burned
Like a plate of eyes. Our hands were peppered
With thorn pricks, our palms sticky as Bluebeard’s.
We hoarded the fresh berries in the byre.
But when the bath was filled we found a fur,
A rat-grey fungus, glutting on our cache.
The juice was stinking too. Once off the bush
The fruit fermented, the sweet flesh would turn sour.
I always felt like crying. It wasn’t fair
That all the lovely canfuls smelt of rot.
Each year I hoped they’d keep, knew they would not.

 

 

Baby Project: Quilt, Bed Skirt, Pillows, and More

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When Jedidiah and I got married, we had decided on three children.  When we had Max five years ago, we decided our family was complete–two children was enough.  That doesn’t mean that I still don’t think about “what if…”   I walk by baby clothing in stores, and I think, “oh, how sweet.”  I look at patterns and prints in fabric and yarn stores.  I long to sew or knit up something for a tiny, cute rolly-poly baby. Then, almost as suddenly as the thoughts begin, I wake up from my day dream reverie to Max crying over a broken toy or Madeleine spilling another drink.   Stick a fork in me, I’m done.

I have enjoyed shopping for another baby lately–my niece Arya, who will arrive in August.  I can’t wait to meet her.

Aimee, my sister-in-law lives in Los Angeles, too far away from shopping or crafting together, but no so far away that I wasn’t determined to make my sisterly mark on her pregnancy.  I decided that I would make the crib bedding.  I gathered information from her, and then trolled internet fabric sites and Pinterest for ideas. She selected patterns she liked from Pinterest.  Unfortunately, we started pinning in April, and I didn’t start shopping until June.  Here’s all I could find at my fabric store:

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It was initially a disappointing endeavor. But I’m not easily discouraged.  I piled my mother and kids into the car, and we visited some local fabric stores.  I called and texted Aimee, sending her pictures of whatever combinations of gold/gray/purple or any combination thereof.

011Honestly, it was so much fun.  Of course it would have been better had we been together, but we didn’t, so we made the best of it.

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We found inspiration from this quilt from A Little Sweetness.

I took some time to find the right combination of colors and patterns.  We began with white, gray, and yellow.  I’m still a little bummed thaqt I didn’t pick up that dahlia fabric on the right.  (I may have to go back and get that one for me.)Aimee really wanted purple in it too, but it proved challenging to find what would work for what I had in my head.  When it comes to projects, my head gets in the way A LOT!

These are the first couple of strip layouts:

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Then we added the purple:

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Strip quilts are among the easiest to make. While they are simple in design and execution, they can be incredibly sophisticated.  The trick is finding the right combination of fabrics.   A good rule of thumb is a small print with a geometric with a floral.  That’s the formula I used when selecting the fabrics.006

My mom’s really the quilter, so she quilted the entire blanket on her Bernina 730.  Isn’t it beautiful?

No bedding is complete without a crib skirt and some fabulous pillows, so I completed those on my own.  I used a pattern from Oleander and Palm. However, instead of using one color, I inserted 4-in. panels in the pleats.  You’ll have to wait for a blog update to see the final results.  My kids are out of cribs.

I also made a few throw pillows.  My Babylock Sofia 2 was being fussy with the embroidery, but I was dead set on a monogram for a pillow.  I decided to stencil it on with paint from the Martha Stewart Satin Collection in Hydrangea.  I love the color of hydrangeas.

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I also love the look of stenciled dandelions.  Since I had the paint, I made another stencil, and painted those on a white pillow.  I love it.

I was stuck for what to do with the last pillow.  I found some white ruffles and added it to a white panel.  Then I added the geometric print panels. I like the way the modern geo-shapes work with the girly ruffles.

We also made a cuddly playmat and some swaddling blankets.

After a few months and partnering with my talented mother, here are the results.  I love them.  I hope she does too.

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Our Family Canon

Max and I have been trying to find things to do while Miss M attends her three-hour long ballet intensive.  We would come home, but her ballet studio is 45 minutes from our home, so it doesn’t make sense to do that every day.

Today we went to Barnes and Noble.  I miss bookstores, and even though I know it’s Barnes and Noble, I still can’t resist the opportunity to touch, smell, and flip through real books.

We made it for storytime.  The kids’ clerk read a book about Peanut Butter becoming friends with Jelly.  It was cute. Max liked it, but I’m certain I won’t hear about it again.  As the clerk read the story, I looked around at the titles of the newest books.  I flipped through pages.  I read a few of them, but I found that I just didn’t feel like they were as good as the ones we loved as a family.  It got me to thinking about what books are a part of our family literary canon so far.   These are the books that I feel will be passed on to our grandchildren and maybe even beyond.  Here’s what I’ve come up with so far…

415kZ75KgoL._SX258_BO1,204,203,200_1.  Sleepyhead by Karma Wilson Karma Wilson appears often in our house, and her books make the list more than once. This book was read more than any other book on the shelf.  Madeleine received it as a gift for her first Christmas. We’ve read it cuddled up together so many times. For three months, Madeleine referred to herself as “Sleepyhead.”  I find her reading it as a bedtime story for her little brother a lot of the time. Also, thanks to John Segal’s creative illustrations, Madeleine learned what a narwhal was before her first birthday.

51I3hoGSaoL._SX258_BO1,204,203,200_2. Daddy’s Girl by Garrison Keillor.  Jedidiah and I have always loved Garrison Keillor and Prairie Home Companion.  We would often joke about how at twenty five, we would listen to the NPR, I with my knitting and he with his New York Times crossword puzzle.  We were already so old!

When Madeleine was born, he picked up this board book at our local Hastings.  He and Madeleine have the entire book memorized.  Even eight years later, they can still recite it.  It’s almost like it’s their “song.”  It’s beautiful, and it’s just theirs.

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3. Go, Dog, Go! by P.D. Eastman.  This is another book that’s consistently quoted by our family and my in-laws.  Even this last weekend,  you could hear Grandpa uttering lines to Max. No one wears a hat without someone quoting this book.

 

 

bear-snores-on_2564. Bear Snores On by Karma Wilson.   Whenever I read this book, I cannot help but become overly dramatic.  I love hearing Madeleine giggle as I snore loudly.  The “Bear” books are great, but this one is by far the family favorite.

 

 

where-the-wild-things-are5. Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak.  I love this book.  I know many people do.  I loved it so much that I lobbied to have my son named Max and won.  For me this book is more than just a book about imagination, emotions, or pretending.  It’s about the complex relationship between a mother and son.  It’s just beautiful.  Everything about it. Beautiful.

 

web6. Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White.  Hardly anyone will disagree that this book is one of the best books in children’s literature.  I first read it to Madeleine when we moved to Colorado.  She had to leave behind many of her friends, and I wanted a book that would address that idea but in a “not shoved down your throat” way.  This book did it.  Reading this before the beginning of kindergarten is one of my treasured memories of our new house and life in Colorado. To this day, it’s still her favorite book.

ql-123_1z7. Goodnight, Good night, Construction Site by Sherri Duskey Rinker.  This is one of the only titles acquired for Max alone. Aunt Leslie sent it to him for Christmas.  It’s just the perfect book to put a little boy to sleep.  Max doesn’t quite have the same love of books that everyone else in the house does, but offer to read him this or Where the Wild Things Are, and he’s in.

 

 

Madeline-main28. Madeline by Ludwig Bemelmans. I have always enjoyed the story about a little French girl with appendicitis.  I KNEW my little girl would love it too.   We have every Madeline title, and they are all proudly displayed on her bookshelf.  We still walk by the tigers at the Denver Zoo and say “Pooh, pooh!”

 

 

 

Crazy_Hair_(Gaiman_McKean_book)_cover9. Crazy Hair by Neil Gaiman.  

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10. The Day I Swapped My Dad for Two Goldfish by Neil Gaiman. Neil Gaiman is extremely popular at our house.  I may or may not have accused by husband of actually having a “Shrine to Neil Gaiman.”  Shrine or not, the man is a literary genius.  He’s one of the greatest storytellers of our time, and besides the Beowulf debacle (I just can’t get over that one, Mr. Gaiman), he’s pretty infallible as a writer.  He can write compelling stories for adults as well as touching, TheDayISwappedMyDadforTwoGoldfish_AudioCD_1250349733humorous, and creative stories for children. Crazy Hair in particular is another quoted favorite.  On any given morning, one of us will tell the other of us that we have “crazy hair.”

What books are in your family canon?