Teddy Bear and the Nightmares

babyWhile both of my parents are significant influences in my life, I have to give the majority of the child rearing credit to my mom.  Mom fed us, dressed us, bathed us, got us to school, chauffeured to activities, read bedtime stories, fixed boo boos, and knew all the details of her three children’s lives growing up.

There are some memories I have of my dad during my childhood which stand out, like the time I ran screaming from him when he asked to do my hair during a summer trip to Colorado.  It was in fact the first and only time I can recall him showing any interest in doing my hair and it was my mom’s job…  Or so I thought, until she pointed out how upset he looked at my response.  Remorsefully I agreed to let him try to which he responded, “Nevermind.”

My dad may not have been successful at styling his daughters’ hair, though, he did have a knack at resolving my childhood nightmares.  I had a reoccurring nightmare which likely stemmed from cartoon watching and stranger danger lessons in early elementary school.  To a six year old, the Care Bears being kidnapped was a wickidly frightening dream and one I would wake up from crying.  Whether from brilliant parenting insight or just an effort to keep me from trying to sleep in my parents bed, my dad reassured me in a way I found strength and confidence.  My dad told me to fall asleep holding my teddy bear up to my head and it would scare the bad dreams away.

It was a simple piece of advice from my dad and helped me sleep soundly through my childhood.  A few weeks ago I was fondly remembering how this memory made an impression on me when the realization hit me, my dad lied to me.  The teddy bear didn’t scare anything away, it was a false sense of security which tricked me into sleeping.  Now some people might say “so what, you got to sleep.”  Except my parents raised us with the belief and my dad maintains it is important to never lie to children.  He stands by the necessity of being truthful, not misleading with fairytales or disception.  Granted, this does not mean full disclosure to kids, there are times to limit topics into adult conversation.  For my parents it was important to set the example for always being honest.

In a quiet moment with my parents I broke the silence by asking my dad if he remembered this childhood advice.  I told him how I affectionately remembered the influence it had on me and my nightmares, he closed his eyes and smiled.  “It was a lie,” I pointed out, “The bear didn’t scare anything away, you lied.”  I felt so cleaver to finally uncover the one example in my lifetime where my dad was intentionally dishonest with me and hung to the thought for only a moment.

“It wasn’t a lie,” he said softly, “I helped you to change your perception so you weren’t afraid.”

As soon as he said it I understood what he meant, since a fear of a dream is unique from real danger.  The power I was given by the teddy bear wasn’t false at all, I was able to envision the protection it served me and it did provide me safety from my Care Bear nightmare.  The change in my perception gave me the confidence to control how I felt and what I didn’t need to fear.

Our conversation was broken up by a lab technician coming into the hospital room to take more blood samples from my dad.  He laid weak under the florescent lighting on an emergency stretcher, medical machines beeping with IV fluid being flushed through his body.  Dad’s skeletal frame had been deteriorating over the past six month, starting as a back ache escalating to full blown crisis.  Knowing what we know now, I wrestled with the guilt of thinking he just wasn’t trying hard enough to get well.

Dad was admitted to the ICU and the following few days were met with a whirlwind of doctors, blood tests, CT scans, X-rays, medicines and finally a bone biopsy.  For a man who had escaped injury and illness throughout his life, it was a nightmare come to life to watch him dependent on help from others.  My mom, siblings and our significant others rallied to support Dad during his hospitalization.  After an emotionally taxing weekend, we surrounded my dad when a doctor confirmed the diagnosis of multiple myeloma.

Six days after entering through the emergency room, Dad was sent home and began preparation for cancer treatment.  Taking advice from my sister-in-law to heart, I have not looked into the statistics of the disease and only focused my attention on gaining knowledge of treatment.  I am not naïve about his frail condition or the long road ahead, instead I am making a choice not to dwell in what we cannot change.  Dad’s advice of the teddy bear and nightmares seems to be relevant even more today.  By changing our perception we can develop strength and avoid fear, keep our minds open for opportunities and be confident about handling what the future brings.

My dad continues to reinforce life lessons and bring a positive influence into my life, as does my mom.  Through all of this, my mom has stayed the consistent caregiver.  She makes meals, helps dress, chauffeurs to doctor’s appointments, and maintains all the details of dad’s needs.  Mom even helps him with his hair.


For family and friends who are interested in knowing more about his diagnosis and treatment, Dad and I are keeping a journal to document the road to recovery on Caringbridge.  You can find him by searching his full name.

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The Vacuum of Vacuums

I wish I were talking about the greatest vacuum in the world, the most reliable engineered home-cleaning system.  Sadly, I’m talking about my home literally sucking the life out of vacuum cleaners.

The day we brought my daughter home from the hospital my husband went to purchase a new vacuum cleaner.  Funny to think I remember it so clearly, maybe it was because he felt the urgency for a momentary escape from the emotional magnitude of bringing home a baby.  Maybe it was feeling like we needed an exceptionally clean start for the new precious being.  Or maybe it was an errand he could contribute because this new tiny creature was infinitely latched to my boobs.

I can’t even think of what we had been using prior to the new vacuum, probably a hand-me-down appliance like most others throughout our home.  I do know, the purchase began our spiral of irreparable cleaning apparatuses.  Thankfully, since the purchase was made at Costco we have been able to lug in our dusty useless equipment, no box and no receipt and walk out with a fresh start.  Over the years we have seen the same model in a variety of colors and minimal improvements, at no cost except the gas and time it takes to make the transaction.  In the last four years we have had a revolving door of vacuums making this exchange at least once and sometimes twice per year.

One might think a consumer is being too hard on the vacuum, how could it really break that often?  Our square footage of carpet isn’t even too great in our little home, a few rugs, two carpeted bedrooms and one living space.  Regular usage to rid our home of shed dog hair, kid messes and typical traffic, I don’t think it’s more than an average home.  And I certainly haven’t dropped it down the stairs, thrown objects at it or beaten it in any way – at least thoughts of raging on the machines don’t cause physical harm. vacuum5 People say things aren’t made like they used to be and claim the investment is worth it for a machine from the door to door variety.  Then again, I’d hate to think of my home sucking the life out of antique or ultra expensive vacuum, a risk I’m not willing to take as long as they keep taking broken ones at Costco.

Still, it doesn’t take long in our home to go from “just out of the box” condition to slowly loosing it’s suction.  A vacuuming job quickly ends up sucking time out of my day to take bits of it apart, cleaning it and cutting out threads and hairs trying to get back to working condition.  When a recent exchange failed in less than three months, I borrowed a spare vacuum my mom had in her home.  All I could do was laugh when the whole upper half of the machine came off with the mere pull of the handle, of course in my home the Vacuum of Vacuums.

And last week I had the time to do one of my favorite floor cleaning rituals… Steam cleaning rugs.  I poured the appropriate measurements of solution and water into the machine, plenty of which made it evenly dispersed onto the rugs.  Very little of it ended up suctioned back into the steam cleaner, and it was only its second use.  Out of the time it took me to steam clean the rugs, most it was sucked into squatting on the floor trying to find out why it wasn’t sucking.

Yesterday I made the official return to Costco (again) and this time opted to upgrade to the more expensive model vacuum.  I’ll try to stay optimistic and believe it will become my faithful tool, my companion for cleaning for decades.  Let’s hope the shark will not fall victim to the Vacuum of Vacuums or our only choice will be to move to a home with no carpet.

clean-house

 

Catskills: Part II

The day of the wedding finally arrived.  I readied my little girl to her finest curled perfection and dressed her in the fall colored dress my mom made for the occasion.  I left Parker with my husband and dad so the ladies could all hurry off to my sister’s cabin in the woods.  Thank goodness she happened to pull up the country road behind us to follow her through the winding twists and turns we would never have found on our own.

Heather was radiating with bridal thrills and couldn’t wait to get the ceremony and celebration started.  My sister-in-law immediately went to work on her hair spraying, twisting and pinning.  Her soon to be sister-in-law prepared mimosas, because what bride prep wouldn’t be complete without some champagne?  My sister’s NY family/friends had made amazing individual gift bags of products, I Wedding Cabinshamelessly would never be able to justify buying on my own.  Although I had already gotten dolled up back at the hotel, I wanted to start over with my new colors…  Instead I took pictures and waited by my sister as her cup holder.

Once hair was set and make-up applied, my mom assisted Heather with putting on her dress.  While dress shopping I warned my sister not to find one too fast and to let Mom help with putting it on.  I remembered back to my own dress shopping, my mom was loving trying on dresses more than me.  Not just looking at them, the actual helping wrestle into them, lacing, zipping and adjusting.  I felt like I was taking a favorite hobby from her when I decided on one dress.  I knew that moment between my mom and sister was a special one, the final time she would be zipping up a daughter, I’m sure one or both of them had a tear.  She emerged from the bedroom, adorn with her beautifully simple satin gown to admiration.  Her soon to be mother-in-law helped with the finishing sentimental touches; jewelry from each of the grandmas who wouldn’t be physically present for the day.  Upon final observation at herself in the mirror the bride reported “Damn, I’d marry that.”

All of the guests were present when we arrived at her fiancé’s uncles’ cabin.  It was just the atmosphere they had planned, immediate family and a few close city friends on a cool fall day.  The party was underway as many guests had already poured drinks and were enjoying each other’s company on the deck.  Heather did a little touch-up in the bedroom before meeting our dad on the side of the house ready for her big entrance.  Guests found their seats, Parker and her cousins were ready in their claimed row holding hands.

My sister was stunning and my dad proud as they walked through the row of pumpkins, up the steps and down the aisle towards her waiting groom.  I wondered if he was as shocked as we all had been when she decided to wear a veil, if he was it was masked by the expression of pure happiness when he saw her.  The ceremony was officiated by her fiancé’s uncle, and he spoke to how honored he was to be asked and to be able to share his cabin for the event.

Following the ceremony, traditional wedding pictures were taken.  I acted as the photographer, keeping within the conditions they didn’t want strangers as part of the day at all.  They report they love the pictures, however, it was crazy anxiety provoking to know the pictures they will look back on FOREVER from this day are

I promise there were a lot more wedding pics and they are my sister's to have.

I promise there were a lot more wedding pics and they are my sister’s to have.

ones I am responsible for or responsible for messing up.   And simultaneously with pictures the party began.  A full bar, lawn games, socializing, adventures in the woods and crafts for kids, appetizers and dancing on the deck.  Once pictures were taken, some suits were replaced with jeans.  My husband also wanted to participate in dressing down, except his hodge podge of what he happened to bring must have been frightening to our company of high-class New Yorkers.  Imagine dress shoes, funky dress socks, light blue shorts and a black college hoodie.

With my sister living half a country away, I was removed from all she had been doing with wedding details.  Her attention to including grandparents into the day was thoughtful testament to how much they both appreciate their families.  On her bouquet was a thread of small pictures of four sets of grandparents. Wedding Day Heather hand painted wine, martini and brewery glasses with trees and fall leaves especially for the day.  Inside the cabin it was clear she spent a huge effort on exactly how she wanted the tables to appear with table cloths, runners, flower arrangements, and candle holders created the day before out of split logs and gourds.  And just like there was no professional photographer, there was no professional caterer, although you would think the fajita dinner was professionally done.

Since Parker already adores her uncle and his family, I was thrilled she would be able to meet his other significant family there.  It was a magical evening to watch her and her cousins interact with his family as if they had known each other their whole lives.  Throughout the day and into the night laughter and happiness came from two people and their families, the pieces fit just as they were meant to.  It was comfortable, intimate and personal just as they had been planning.

On Sunday, we figured since we had made our way to the Catskills of New York, we would need to visit Woodstock.  Disappointed by the fact that the actual farm where the hippie festival took place is not even near Woodstock, we still enjoyed the town, the hippie shops, hippie restaurants and hippie signs warning to STOPFracking.  My husband, parents and child found our way to the Woodstock Flea Market where we searched for an inexpensive replacement wedding band for my husband and settled for a hippie-toy guitar for Parker.  What could be more fitting as a souvenir from Woodstock?  We made one last rendezvous with the married couple before they headed back to New York City.  It would only be a few more days before we’d see them again for more wedding celebrations back in Kansas City.

The Woodstock Flea Market

The Woodstock Flea Market

 

 

Catskills: Part I

What do you mean you pack for him? The criticism was at the forefront of my mind as the cabin doors were closing and I stared at the vacant seat across the aisle from me.  I had chuckled at the idea of my friend packing for her husband on their trips, believing a grown man should be doing this for himself.  Except in the moment when my husband was still maneuvering TSA and our flight was securing its doors, I wished I had just packed his bag.

We arrived at the airport early, like the kind of early I will only wake for travel.  We were traveling as a family with my parents to my sister’s wedding in the Catskills of New York.  To say I was eager to get there is minimizing the feeling, I was ecstatic, the wedding celebrations were all I had been thinking about for weeks.  The anticipation of a year and a half engagement, ten-year relationship and all the suspense in sharing details for where in the world the ceremony would be had amounted to the peak of mania.  Who would have known the airport would have been buzzing with business before six o’clock AM, lines seemed longer than I’ve seen them in years for our convenient Midwestern airport. My parents and I adjusted baggage, ensured my four year-old Parker was holding a hand and prepared to find our way to the terminal.  My husband slowed with a look of confused concern, “I have to check my bag.” He borrowed a garment bag for the trip so that he could carry his suit neatly for the wedding.  My mom stepped in to reassure him the bag can be a carry-on and will fit in the overhead bin.  The concerned expression continued as he realized even if the size would fit he made packing errors which would make it impossible to bring it as a carry-on and began making his trek to the airline counter.

Security agents and airline personnel were as pleasant and accommodating as a box of hungry hedgehogs.  We watched him through the glass standing in the TSA line making slow progress to get closer to where we were.  I boarded the plane with Parker and my parents knowing my husband had not yet taken his shoes off but was literally a few sprints from where I sat.  The stewardess ignored my attention seeking as if it was impossible to stop checking seat belts to address a customer.  When she finally returned to my panic, she frankly reported “The plane is finished boarding.”  On the phone, my husband’s irritation was growing as he explained how they had only one line to accommodate security screens and chose him for a random search.  He added he was one of six people getting slowed down by processes who were meant to board the same flight.

By the time the flight was in the air I was fighting tears, all the excitement I had building about this amazing weekend were starting with a major absence.  I didn’t know what to be more mad about: TSA for only having one line to screen people, the airline for not ushering people who needed to get to flights, the fact that more than 2 oz of body wash is treated like gun powder to carry onto the plane, my perfectly-planned-for-travel pixie pants creating a sad muffin top or that I should have just packed the damn bag and avoided this.  By the time we got to flying over Washington DC (our connecting airport) and circling over for twenty minutes, then landing only to taxi for an additional 15 minutes; I decided my aggression was focused on US Airlines for insisting we had an on-time departure from Kansas City and leaving behind 6 passengers the 35 wasted minutes could have helped.

There was nothing I could do to remedy the situation so I focused on making sure Parker was comfortable with the flying experience, thankfully she laid her head in my lap and caught up on the early morning missed sleep.  One more quick flight and we landed in Albany for the long anticipated weekend.  We drove south down the interstate and then west to our destination in the Catskills.  I don’t think I had clearly envisioned what it would be likeIL01 in upstate New York, though I would have been wrong in a lot of ways.  The rolling hills of bright autumn leaves, picture perfect streams and creeks in the valleys all seemed familiar and foreign at the same time.  And even though my searches on maps and for rental properties showed limited occupied area, I guess I still imagined New York as a heavily populated land mass and was shocked at how rural living looked in the state.  The rich fall colors still clung to some trees when we arrived and by the end of the weekend most seemed to have fallen.

We checked into our hotel and waited for my sister and her fiancé to meet us after their wedding prep errands.  She was radiating energy to see us, screams of excitement and long tight-squeezing hugs.  Even her fiancé, with a typical all about business demeanor, showed a glowing smile of enthusiasm which stayed joyfully plastered throughout the weekend.  We followed them into Phoenicia, the nearest town where the main street consisted of a few restaurants, some gift shops and one pitiful grocery store.  My sister pointed out where we would be eating for dinner on Friday night at Brio’s.  I quickly realized the Brio in the Catskills is nothing like the Brio in Kansas City and I seriously overestimated the formality of my wardrobe.

The infinitely happy couple had dreamed of having their wedding ceremony in this outdoorsy romantic location.  They wanted their vows to be spoken in front of immediate family on the deck of his uncles’ resort like cabin retreat from city life.  All of the planning and organizing was finally coming to fruition, they were busy with final arrangements and checking into their own secluded cabin to meet up with us later.

In the haze of fatigue and frustration from the missed flight fiasco I omitted the discussion of plans for the evening and focused on the relief of knowing my husband would be flying out on the next available flight in the morning.  (This was paid for by the airline for recognizing their error in IL02abandoning six passengers.)  Finally when I clued in that dinner plans needed to be created a quick search lead me to finding a restaurant my sister and fiancé had never tried in their trips to the upstate getaway.

We met up with them for dinner at Peekamoose, an adorable spot further up 28.  The restaurant had a dining room, a playroom, a tavern and a patio off the side where you could enjoy a complimentary s’more after a meal.  We sat in the tavern where unique furniture, an eclectic grouping of artwork and tree trunks tastefully strung with white lights made for cozy gathering spaces.  The food exceeded expectations

A meal described as the cheese part of ravioli without the confinement of the pasta. Yum!

A meal described as the cheese part of ravioli without the confinement of the pasta. Yum!

starting with appetizers, bread and spreads.  I even took a picture of my meal, uncharacteristic of me, in the pleasure of the restaurant, the trip and the pending event.  Topping of the décor and the food was the entertainment of the night.  My daughter, deliriously excited and tired, interacting with her equally excited uncle.  At some points it was difficult to tell who was laughing more and by the end it was contagious to other tables at Peekamoose.

peekamoosegroup

Parker and I went directly to bed after dinner and both slept a solid twelve hours.  In the morning when we were nearly ready my parents came into the hotel room talking on speaker phone with my sister.  She added her fiancé’s uncle to the conversation to provide directions to the cabin where we would help them with wedding set-up.  He described turns, streets, crossing bridges, up hills, down hills and crossing back bridges.  IL04Between mascara brushes I watched my parents listening intently as the directions continued to mount.  Our morningIL05 chore was to pick up pumpkins before going to the cabin.  We found a market on the side of the highway to buy pumpkins and have a photo-op with a bear.  Then fearing my parents didn’t write a thing down in addition to no cell phone reception in these remote parts of New York, I didn’t think we would make it to the cabin.  To my surprise, like a comedic skit about two people who have been married for forty years, they bantered about the directions all the way up the mountain following my mom’s lead until we pulled into the driveway of the cabin – not making a single mistake.

Sister, fiancé and uncle were outdoors and dirty to greet us in the middle of potting flowers for the deck.  Not long after we arrived the fiancé’s family, also traveled the day before from Kansas City, got to the cabin.  After all the greeting and explaining why my hubby was not present, everyone jumped into tasks of moving, mowing, and decorating.  The cabin in the woods had a stunning kitchen, a magazine quality bathroom with soaker tub and the deck opened to views of a pond complete with a fountain.  My dad took my husband’s travel delay as an opportunity to escape the wedding prep and we left for lunch at the Phoenicia Diner and then a trip back to Albany with Parker.  At the Peekamoose I was impressed by the emphasis on local foods, then at the diner I realized this was just the norm in the area.

There was no chain restaurants and no franchise locations near the Catskills, it was a refreshing reprieve from my normal.  Except on the way back from Albany, after being reunited with my husband, I needed to kill my chai craving and made my dad stop at Starbucks.  I guess others felt the same withdrawal from franchise addictions because it was the longest lines and wait of any Starbucks I have been to.

By the time we made it back to the cabin, wedding preparations were complete for the day and there wasn’t anything to do except wait for dinner.  My sister was proposed to on her fiancé’s birthday and together they thought it would be fitting to get married on her birthday.  Since there wouldn’t be an opportunity on Saturday for the birthday celebration, we all planned to gather for a thirtieth birthday dinner in town on Friday night.  I left the dress I had brought hanging in the closet and opted for a more casual “weekend in the woods,” attire.  At Brio, our long table of family enjoyed beer and pizza.  Parker plopped herself down in the chair by her cousins where she colored and played contently throughout the meal.  My sister opened gifts and blew out candles.  It was clear her thirtieth birthday would be an unforgettable celebration and it was barely getting started.

IL06

Next: The Wedding Day

 

 

Red Hair Equals Mermaid

I will admit, Halloween really crept up on me this year.  I know, it’s the same October 31st I look forward to every year, except this year we had taken three trips out of town in two months and had what felt like the rest of the month of October absorbed in my sister’s wedding.  It was the weekend before Halloween when people started questioning my daughter what she was going to be for Halloween when I figured I had better pull something together.

She wavered between costume ideas, initially stating her destiny to be a princess.  Of course not related to any of the princess costumes we already have at home to regularly get dressed up in.  Then one morning during our typical getting the hair done routine…  This consists of PJ isolated sitting on the dresser, holding my phone tuned into Youtube Cimorelli videos (Cimorelli is a girls group from California who cover major pop songs in a PG version – perfect for little ears – and Parker learns and loves all of these pop songs.)  After the combing, pulling, braiding, twisting and rubber bands she eventually earns a marshmallow for cooperating.  During this morning, as she is scrolling through videos and singing along to the teen lyrics in a slurred unclear of all the words kind of way, I asked her if she wanted to be a pop star for Halloween.

Of course the answer was yes.  And then it was up to me to figure out what a pop star looks like in age appropriate four-year old kind of way.  I figured she had some pop-star-ish clothes and we could just pick up some accessories like a microphone, play jewelry, and a wig.  With her participation, she was getting into the idea of what a singer would wear on stage and loved picking out some blingy $0.50 rings.

On Friday afternoon I took Parker to school to trick or treat with her class.  She had already made it clear she was not a fan of the wig during our trying out the costume at home so I brought bobby pins to staple it to her head.  And when the moment came to walk into her school she began refusing the rest of her costume accessories fusing about the headphones, jewelry and handed me her microphone.  In her classroom she appeared as the whiny girl, fashionable dressed with red hair – to which most people assumed she was going as Ariel the Little Mermaid.  I’ve never seen Ariel in a cheetah print top, but lesson learned red hair equates to mermaid.

On Friday evening I had high hopes of capturing an image to show the true pop star image my four-year old can emulate.  I imagined a scene with her in the foreground posing as she loves to do garnishing all of the pop star accessories we had planned.  She’s pop out her hip, throw her arms in the air and belt out a song.  Then in the background her daddy would be dressed as the bodyguard in his decade old workout shirt labeled “SECURITY,” a dark suit jacket, sunglasses and an ear piece.  Then I would be standing next to him as the manager holding a clipboard, two phones and talking on 08one more.  I envisioned this legendary Halloween 2014 picture and when it came down to it all I got was one cranky looking wild girl ready to go out and hit the streets for candy.  Oh well, there’s always next year.

On Saturday we had a family adventure to the Louisburg Cider Mill.  It was their final weekend for the fall festivities so PJ got ample time on the jumping pillow; it was nice to be able to stand on the sidelines and watch her enjoying herself without having to be Jumping Pillowholding hands with her.  We took a hay rack ride, I found out it is my husband’s favorite fall activity.  And we found our way through the giant corn maze.  We let Parker take the lead and choose the paths, my husband and I played behind her tossing dried corn cobs at each other.  I may have chucked one a touch too hard and his retaliation cob throw ended up with a rip in the back of my pants.  “It’s not so bad, you’re wearing pink underwear right?” he said.  Unfortunately it was my bare butt and a day I wish I had worn a longer shirt.  The adventure ended with hot cider and apple cider donuts which made up for the end of life for my pants. Jumping Pillow2 Corn Maze Louisburg Cider Mill

 

I Love Lucy

Next month will be the five-year anniversary since moving into our current home.  Remembering back to the months of house hunting with our realtor John makes me laugh.  We might have been one of his more frustrating couples to work with since we had inquiries into multiple locations spread around the Kansas City metro area and fickle possibilities of what we were hoping for in our first home together.  Old versus new, split level versus ranch style, garages, fireplaces, walk in closets, full renovations versus freshly done renovations, acreage versus small plots…  We made it nearly impossible for him to narrow down the possibilities.  After one missed opportunity in Grandview, one unaccepted offer in Overland Park, and one day too late offer in Brookside, we were exhausted with the search and prepared to find somewhere to rent when we gave it one last shot.

We returned to a house we had stopped at before in South Kansas City, we called it “the refrigerator house” since the stainless steel feature in the home we clearly remembered and liked.  From the outside it looked really small, as most of the houses in the area were constructed in the 50’s with a two bedroom, one bathroom layout.  This home had an addition added later to create another living space and bedroom onto the back of the house and the basement was finished off with another living space and second bathroom.  There was nothing spectacular about the house, it didn’t fulfill everything we were looking for in a home and the colors were all wrong.  The location was great, we feared wasting money on rent over building equity in a home and knew our first home wouldn’t be our forever home so we made an offer.

Shortly after moving in walls began getting painted, window treatments were hung and the house became our home – even after we had to repair the refrigerator.  We became friendly with some neighbors and other neighbors we were seemingly invisible to with no acknowledgment at all.  The first autumn in the house rolled around and I noticed a homeless woman digging in our recycling on the curb Thursday mornings before I went to work.  Peering out the window I could see her torn skirt, old shoes, an over-sized coat and a scarf covering her hair.  One morning I sadly watched her digging in the blue box at the end of our driveway and pull out an empty detergent pail, she carried it across our lawn and out of my view.  I quickly moved to another window to catch her path from another angle, and watched as she passed across the street and added the pail to gardening tools in the yard across the street.

Eventually I met my neighbor, who I initially viewed as a homeless woman, her name is Lucy.  In the past five years I have grown to love the garden growing, garbage gathering, mismatched clothes wearing, widowed friend.  She explained to me how she collects pop tabs off of the cans people put in their recycling she gives to her church and the Box Top stamps she finds to bring to her granddaughter.  Fearing the woman’s frail condition and level of activity I began putting our pop tabs in an envelope for her.

A few years ago Lucy’s doctor told her she needed to stop taking on so much; cleaning her house, keeping up her garden and roaming the street for treasures in trash was too much at her age.  Her son’s have tried to convince her to move to a retirement community, and it seemed like during times when Lucy struggled with insomnia and confusion she considered it.  Then when spring would roll around and the flowers returned to life, so did Lucy.

lucy2Having raised her family in the home, which presently has orange shag carpeting I imagine was installed about 40 years ago, she knows the neighborhood and history of previous occupants.  She meets all of the neighbors, even the ones who haven’t acknowledged us in five years.  She delivers flowers from her garden, often in reusable gems from recycling bins like bottles and plastic cups.  During certain times of the year there are daily deliveries of flowers from Lucy, sometimes a sweet smelling surprise found on the front deck or a small bouquet in her empty milk carton from the Meals on Wheels lunch.

Five years ago I never would have guessed how I would feel about my house.  I like my house, the location is great,  it feels like our home, best of all I love Lucy.  It’s wonderful having a neighbor who is happy to give and receive hugs, I feel humbled to hear “Bless you” from an older woman in tattered clothing, and I don’t mind getting pulled into conversations with the neighborhood historian.  Plus it always puts a smile on my face to get a fresh bouquet of flowers.

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Cooperation At Two

I often write about my daughter.  About how funny, how brilliant, how inspirational and how fantastic it is to be her mom.  Even though all these things are true, our days aren’t always filled with cotton candy, rainbows and sunshine, lovey-dovey happiness.  Oh no, far from it.  Parker is a product of my husband and I and shows for it with all the independent stubbornness capable of being supported in her two and a half-year old frame.

Today was one of those days where every direction, limitation and plea for cooperation was met with equal or greater opposition.  If I said here, she went there.  If I said up, she went down.  And when I said no, she took it as a yes with a running head start.  Battle after battle, talking it out followed by Parker’s apologies and eventual follow-through with requests.  It seems on days like today I have to work twice as hard to maintain my patience and consistency to prove I’m not going to give in, hoping it will curb tomorrow’s behavior.

By the end of the day I was exhausted counting down the minutes until bed-time and still prepared for Parker’s next challenge.  She had dumped out a large bag of foam blocks to play with and after a short while abandoned the blocks for crayons and paper.  “Parker, you need to put the blocks away before coloring,” I instructed her.heycrazylady

She looked up at me with a Crazy Lady Leave Me Alone glare and said, “Mommy you not cooperating!”

Yes, exactly what I have been telling her all day.

The Ants Go Marching

suttaMy Basics of Buddhism class finished last week at the Rime Buddhist Center in Kansas City.  I’d highly recommend taking the course if you are interested in becoming Buddhist, are spiritually/religiously curious, or just need an excuse to commit to get out of the house once a week for twelve weeks – which all three was the case for me.

Since learning the basics, I recognize my thinking about life and relationships matches well with Buddhism.  I know my Buddha-nature is begging to come with the combination of cultivating wisdom and generating loving compassion.  Ultimately meditation is critical and needs to be part of my life as much as food.

Yet, while I agree with so many of the Buddhist philosophies I cannot call myself Buddhist and cannot accept all of the vows.  As part of the vows taken by a wanna-be Buddhist, Eight Mahayana Precepts are agreed upon.  The first precept is not killing and this is a no brainer when it comes to humans, and even most animals for this vegetarian.  Except in the Buddhist tradition not killing includes all sentient beings, from the largest whale to the smallest maggot.  According to the teachings, one-act of killing can carry 500 lifetimes of karmic retribution.

I learned about these vows several weeks back and they were steady on my mind while I was out raking one day.  The spring weather was finally getting warm consistently so I knew the conditions were finally right for the garter snakes to be emerging.  The snake population in my neighborhood is so high it could fill a hundred reptile centers and still have snakes left roaming.  I have wanted them gone since the first sighting.  After four years of living in my home the surprise in seeing them slinking around the grass, sunning on the bushes, and climbing up my fire pit chimney has worn off.  I no longer get the chills or feel the need to run screaming, okay maybe I do get the chills and stay at least five feet away.  On this day out in the yard I pondered how a Buddhist would view the snake problem, accept them as part of nature and not be ill willed towards them?  Sure enough, when my raking was nearly done I turned back towards what I had already cleared to see a garter snake freshly risen from his winter estate.

Feeling as if this was a test I had predicted for myself, I gave the snake a half-smile and decided it would be Buddha-like enough to help him move out of my raking path to the other side of the fence.  I gently used my rake to encourage him to the fence line where he briskly slithered through the chain-link.  Pleased with my acceptance of nature and assistance

The actual snake from my yard, picture taken from a safe distance away by camera phone.

The actual snake from my yard, picture taken from a safe distance away by camera phone.

towards my not so favorite creature I went on with my chore until I heard some rustling in the area I had sent the snake. What a miracle it would be if another animal had found the snake to make a meal out of.  It would still mean good karma for me since I helped him with good intention, I figured as I made my way to the fence to check.

Peaking over, it was clear my original prediction was far from true.  I had helped the snake move directly into the path of another snake waiting and ready to mate.  My practice at being more Buddha-like was resulting in snake babies.  Challenged and not defeated by the incident with the snake, I continued to try to make efforts in my daily life to consider what would a Buddhist do?  And the challenges grew from an abundance of hated snakes to hundreds of seemingly insignificant ants.  I first spotted one ant on my kitchen floor.  Then a few ants on the floor.  Then an ant on my kitchen counter and two in my bathroom.

In the Buddhist tradition, each living creature has a connection to you and through the cycle of death and rebirth each living creature has shared a past life.  Meaning the ants, the snakes and my least favorite people in the world have all been my mother and have all been your mother in a past life.  This newly learned belief was present on my mind while I wiped them clean off the counter and rinsed them down the sink, feeling slightly more guilty about a few deaths in the insect world.

I tried to keep my killing to a minimum, except this past weekend I couldn’t take it any longer.  The ants must have sensed my trepidation and had infiltrated my kitchen, marching in one long line up my dining room wall and along a floorboard.  All apprehension of killing living beings and any thought to the ants being my loved ones was lost in the excitement of wanting them all dead.  I excessively laid out poison and gleefully spoke to my tiny relatives – “Drink up guys and bring your friends.”

Buddhist, I am not.  And if I am reincarnated into an ant for my karmic retribution, I promise to stay out of your kitchen.

Other Posts Reflecting My Experience in the Class:

Victims, Criminals and Floaters

Who would volunteer to go visit a prison?  Hardened criminals, manipulative and egotistical minded individuals locked away from society for good reason.  Those people behaved badly and did things they knew were wrong, they knew better and should be punished.  Why would anyone volunteer to go visit a prison?

I would, and I did go.  For me, I don’t carry the typical view of Americans incarcerated like the description above.  From years of working with youth, I have watched children learn from violence, addictions and unstable environments.  I have seen them removed from their homes and placed in worse conditions in some foster-homes and group homes.  I have noticed the pattern of getting in trouble with the law starting early in life when kids don’t have proper role models.  I have observed the discrepancies which take place in how youth are dealt with based on race and socioeconomic backgrounds.  I have been disappointed by the influence mental health has on effecting behaviors which get ignored in the judicial system.  I don’t judge youth as being bad seeds, I can see the good in them and understand who they have become is a reflection of what they have been through.  They way kids think, speak and behave couldn’t be any different.  They honestly don’t know ‘better’ it’s the only way they know how to be.

It’s easy for us to have pity on children and have sympathy for the situations they have been through.  Why does this stop with children?  We accept kids don’t know better, and somehow by the age of 18 magically people should now know right from wrong, how to handle anger or cope with stress, how to create a substantial income legally or who to trust not to lead you down the wrong path?  It’s hard for me to buy this, if their circumstances were different I know their actions would be different too.

In America we have established a system of ridiculing, harshly judging and locking up victims of unfair circumstances.  Victims of abuse, addiction, trauma, poverty, learning disabled and mentally ill.  Justifying the incarceration of hundreds of thousand non-violent offenders.  Encouraging wealthy investors to build prisons and profit off the contracts to incarcerate some of America’s most oppressed population.  This is occurring at such alarming rates we are leading the world in locking up our citizens.

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From a class I recently took, volunteers were invited to attend a prison and visit with the inmates as a celebration of Vesak, a Buddhist holiday celebrating the birth, enlightenment and death of Buddha.  (For my first story on this click here.)  On the day of the prison visit I felt nervous, not in fear it would be dangerous, it was more related to how I would manage my own frustration with the prison system and maintain equanimity through the experience.  It wasn’t until I showed up for the ride to Leavenworth when I found out we would be going to the U.S. Disciplinary Barracks, the Department of Defense’s maximum security military prison.  According to Wikipedia: Only enlisted prisoners with sentences over ten years, commissioned officers and prisoners convicted of offenses related to national security are confined to USDB.  As I would later hear from the inmates, this is the most dangerous prison in the United States since all of the inmates are trained to kill.

To me, this visit suddenly took on another level of social justice problems.  These inmates were more likely to be incarcerated for violent crimes, yet I still hang on to the notion they are also victims of their circumstances.  Being in the military trains them to be violent, asks them to go to war and causes them to witness unimaginable trauma.  It is impossible not to be effected by these circumstances, and many individuals are mentally unprepared to cope.  The military has seen a substantial increase in the rates of domestic violence, assault, murder and suicide in the last ten years – directly related to tours in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Countless enlisted men and women joining the services to serve and protect their country end up with their lives ruined by war.

On the drive to Leavenworth I road with a fellow classmate and talked about gardening, TV shows and travel.  We shared our anxiety about what we were going to see and I confided I desperately wanted to know the circumstances of each of their crimes and what lead to them, even though I knew I wouldn’t ask.  We presented our id’s at the gates to Ft. USDB2002Leavenworth and caravaned with other vehicles through the base up to the prison.  It seemed to be the furthest possible location on the grounds passing officer’s homes, army barracks, a cemetary lined with identical and symmetrical tombstones, down long winding roads, dead-ends and finally approaching ‘The Castle.”

We entered into a quiet building about 7:15pm and climbed a staircase to a front desk manned by two guards in combat uniform.  The lobby felt like a high school with lockers, restrooms and a seating nook overlooking the dense wooded area beyond the parking lot.  We each had to be cleared with a background check ahead of time and present our identification to get a visitors badge.  Our group of 15 people were escorted by another guard, entering only a few at a time.  One giant glass door slamming locked behind us so the next giant locked door could open.  After the breeze way another guard with a baby pimpled face asked if the first guard would need assistance escorting us to our meeting room.  I was sure these two finished their varsity sports, attended senior prom and put in resignation at McDonald’s about 12 months ago before heading off to boot camp, completely unaware of the commitment they had made and how deeply it would impact their life.

We walked down a long corridor, passing metal doors with small glass windows to other wings of USDB, it reminded me of entrances to different sections of the state mental hospital where I used to work.  There were some inmates passing us in the hallway, none were handcuffed or escorted, and I got the impression I wasn’t in danger being there.  We entered a room, about the size of a classroom with two long tables set up for us to eat and visit.  The prisoners we would be visiting were already in the room and waiting spread out amongst the folding chairs.  I shuffled in shyly with the other guests, waiting for instructions which never came.  Eventually assuming the responsibility to find a spot to sit down and introduce myself to those around me.  My classmate and I sat down next to each other for some security and comfort.  We overly smiled and shook hands with the prisoners across and next to us and then felt the awkwardness sink in unsure of what to talk about.  I bit my tongue to prevent the question of “What did you do to get here?” from blurting out.

At the start I was painfully conscious of my body positioning and every word I uttered into conversation.  We shared how each of us started taking the Basics of Buddhism class, both those from the outside and those from within the prison. We related on why we started a meditation practice and how the practice was going.  The prisoners shared the need for meditation to help calm their minds down, cope with emotions and come to terms with being at USDB.  During dinner I felt by apprehension fading and my body relaxing.  Two of the prisoners I had met were born in other countries, one joining the Navy from his home in California and was last stationed in Hawaii, never imagining he would end up incarcerated in Kansas.

Another prisoner I spoke with told me about being from the East coast, stating he quit college half way through to join the Marines.  He had been enlisted for almost a decade, traveling the world and completing three tours to war.  We discussed the paths of life, influences which shape us and how everyone makes mistakes.  “It would be boring to be perfect,” he remarked, “No one is perfect.”

“Everything is perfect,”  I challenged his view.  I explained my perception, nothing could be the way it is now without everything else which fell before it.  Perfection is neither good nor bad, it is just as it should be.  We couldn’t have been at the table meeting each other in USDB had any circumstance in his or my life been different leading up to that day, not good or bad, just perfect.  The veteran agreed and said he has become keenly aware of situations in his life, choices he has made and what has lead him to where he is at right now.  He feels it is exactly what was supposed to happen and put him in touch with life again.  We talked about people who are aware of their past, intention and purpose.

“And then there are the floaters,” he said.  “Don’t get me wrong, I was a floater for a long time too.”  From the discussion I took that a floater refers to a person who is existing with indifference to themselves and the world around them.  Someone who is oblivious to their impact or lack of impact on others.  Individuals who don’t carry attachment to relationships and situations, rather busying themselves with getting by in life without thinking or place value too highly on material things.

There are victims of crimes and then there are the criminal victims of circumstance.  Their actions are not legal and are not to be condoned, yet our judicial system is not creating a healthier society.  The problem will continue to perpetuate as long as there are floaters unaffected by what is happening and stay disengaged from these conditions in society.  We need to help each other wake up to stop judging criminals, change the criminal system and correct the errors which lead individuals to do bad things.

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If this post peeked your interest and you want to learn more, here is some recommended reading:

The Prison Industry in the United States: Big Business or a New Form of Slavery?      From Global Research

Locked Away, Army Struggles with Wounded Soldiers     From The Gazzette

I’d also recommend checking out The House I Live In a documentary regarding the war on drugs:

Finally, out of curiosity: Have you ever been a floater and what helped to wake you up?

Big Girl Bed, Again.

sillinessA few months back the baby crib came down and was replaced with a toddler bed for my growing tiny tot.  Then a few weeks afterwards the realization set in, too many growing up changes happening too soon and Parker was not accepting them all.  A pack and play was assembled next to the toddler bed for sleeping and temporary reassurance.  The pack and play remained up for both naps and bedtime, while the fancy new toddler bed sat lonely, only getting an occasional hop, pretending to put Mommy down for a nap or movie time cuddles.

Despite the obvious lack of space in the confining pack and play, Parker chose to sleep there and didn’t try to climb out until this week.  She casually walked out of her room following a nap one afternoon, so I promptly set her back into the pack and play to demonstrate how she escaped.  Swinging her leg over the rail and onto her toddler bed as a step down, she proudly showed how she braved her long limbs into her escape plan.

Now, I have to say I have been ambiguous about the use of the pack and play.  In a sense it’s nice to restrict her movement when it’s time to slow down and fall asleep.  Although the structure became an obstacle in her room to manuever around and it was intended to be temporary in the transition.  I have been ready whenever she was and her climbing out seemed to be the obvious sign it was no longer necessary.

As much of an explanation can be comprehended by a two-year old, she heard it while I disassembled the pack and play.  “It’s time to use your big girl bed now,”  I told her.

“Why not?”  She asks, as this is the standard response for questioning even when the ‘not’ part doesn’t fit in.  She appeared bothered, as if the folding boards thinly covered in foam and synthetic material was the most comfortable sleeping arrangement possible.  After some convincing Parker was more excited about the impending night back in her new bed.

Bedtime loomed closer, I felt my nerves rising.  Would she stay in her bed, would she fall asleep and would she stay asleep through the night.  No matter how often I try to prepare, it’s impossible to predict the behavior to expect from a toddler.  Our nighttime routine stayed exactly the same and when it was time I laid her down just as smoothly as I had the previous night in the pack and play.  Momentary success as I closed the door and wished Parker sweet dreams.

I continued my evening downstairs until nearly an hour later I could hear her footsteps, then the door knob and then her chattering.  Back upstairs I went, preparing to set a strict tone of needing to stay in bed.

“I not sleepy Mommy,” she pleaded to me with her big brown eyes as I escorted her back to her door.  “I stinky Mommy,” she said with more urgency.  “I need to go potty, need to go potty,” she said rapidly as a final distraction before I silently steered her back into her room.  Climbing into bed she reiterated “I stinky Mommy.”  I knew she was using any tactic possible to delay going to bed, and I also figured while I was there I should check her claims to be sure.  Against my wishes I switched on her lamp and asked her to stand up to peek in the back of her pull-up.  Sure enough, she needed to be changed.

Parker was delighted to have a captive audience now, she released her delirious inner comedian while I laid her down to wipe her clean.  She sang The Wheels on the Bus using different tunes, voices and tempos with each line.  I did my best to contain laughter, knowing it would only encourage her more.  I couldn’t keep from smiling at her ridiculous state and was relieved to have my face in the shadow of the light so she couldn’t see my response.  Parker went back to bed easily and sang herself to sleep.

All this week we have been redirecting her back to bed, though each night seems less and less.  We also have been getting up several times during the night to bring her back to bed when she comes into our room after we have gone to sleep.  The second night in her big girl bed I woke up early in the morning to find her laying between us, oblivious to when shesleeping arrived or how she climbed up, although from her mummified sleep I knew she had been there a while.  Since I was exhausted from the frequent wake-ups the night before, I fell back asleep before having a conscious thought about needing to move her back.

The next few nights were more of the same.  Redirections to go back to her own bed, and carrying her back to her room after we had gone to sleep.  One early morning my husband awoke when he heard her door knob and from his position in bed he had a clear view of her charge from her room to my side of the bed.  My recollection of the event was a terrifying jolt from my peaceful slumber by an excited tot, exercising her new-found freedom from the confinement of a pack and play.