Checking In: Spring Update

As I’m sure it’s become quietly clear, I’m on hiatus right now. Sabbatical… whichever word works— it’s not a vacation, because it’s not fun. It’s not a break, because nothing is broken. I’ve certainly not stopped writing- that’s no more feasible than pigs flying, or my suddenly thinking hugging a shark is a fantastic idea. I’m writing for BCC still- and you can read them here, if that’s the sort of thing that interests you. I’m writing professionally as well, but for a multitude of reasons, I decided to allow the Dandelion fields to lay fallow for a season.

I want to thank you for all the wonderful emails and notes I’ve received. I forget sometimes, as I type onto the little glowing screen, that there are people who care about us, but about whom I am unaware. I still approach Dandelion as a space to have a conversation about the commonalities in life- raising kids, balancing a million things, autism, divorce, dating, kids becoming teenagers (can you believe their audacity?!), faith, work, education, how damned hard it is some days, and how beautiful the grace is when it shines down on us. Come, sit with me around my kitchen table and talk… Which is a really long (surprise) way of saying: I’m not done writing, and as soon as this fallow time is done, I will be back. There is a seat at my table for you- please tell me how you are.

Until then, we are safe, we are well, and we are we are resting- as one sometimes can- beside the quiet fallow fields.

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The Goodness of People: Valentine Edition

1972455_10152029929005963_476063077_nPeople are so good. Deep down, when it matters, when the superficial is wiped away- people are good. On Valentine’s Day (fie! hiss!) Bean came home from school in tears, dejected and distraught. He’d carefully signed his name to 24 little paper Valentines for his class party, and in return, he received…. nothing. Abby had her overflowing paper-covered box, filled with pink and red hearts and treats. Bean had his carefully made box- a pencil-drawn monster-face with an open mouth cut for the Valentines to be deposited- but there was not one Valentine.

He curled up on the couch, hiding his face in a pillow, whispering “I don’t have any friends.” This is a recurring issue for him (and honestly, for a lot of SpEd/ASD kids- socializing is hard.) and I reassured him that he was loved and had friends.

I put up a small note about it on social media, and within minutes, people were asking if their kids could send him a Valentine.

This… this is what good people, literally from all over the country, did for one sad boy:1795631_10152029970320963_140913680_nHand-drawn, store-bought, treat-ladden, or simple cut construction paper- every one bearing a message of love and friendship for one boy, whom most of you have never even met. There were even three hand-made Doctor Who cards and a letter from the Doctor himself, addressed to Bean. There simply aren’t words for this kind of outpouring of love.

After some investigative work on my end, it seems there was an oversight, and his name was left off the main class list. He divides his time between several teachers, and it was just an accident. I’d say he’s gotten the better part though. 

Last night, as I was tucking him in bed, he wrapped his arms around my neck from the top bunk, and said “Mom, I guess I DO have friends. Lots of them!” This is something that will likely have long-reaching ripples in his life. Thank you all. Deeply and with all my heart. People are so very good.1897760_10152029968875963_1586612129_n

Sonnets to Orpheus II, 29

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For Mo, whom I love.

Quiet friend who has come so far,
feel how your breathing makes more space around you.
Let this darkness be a bell tower
and you the bell. As you ring,

what batters you becomes your strength.
Move back and forth into the change.
What is it like, such intensity of pain?
If the drink is bitter, turn yourself to wine.

In this uncontainable night,
be the mystery at the crossroads of your senses,
the meaning discovered there.

And if the world has ceased to hear you,
say to the silent earth: I flow.
To the rushing water, speak: I am.

Poem by Rainer Maria Rilke
Translation by Joanna Macy and Anita Barrows

January Doldrums, All Systems Normal

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I wish sometimes January didn’t just feel like a month to get through. I know it’s normal after the high festivities of December, and I honestly welcome the fresh start (such as it is) and the clean house, but it’s just…gloomy. The weather is cold, grey and wet, the kids are stuck in the house too much, and I’m left searching for inspiration.

Then I remind myself this is normal. This is the cycle of the year, the downtime when all of nature is hibernating, at rest, saving up for the coming spring, and it cannot be forced before its time.

Icelandic poppies are one of my favorite flowers. When I was younger, still living in California, I would plant them in my yard every January. They are hearty, and can handle what we Californians call ‘winter’- usually blooming with the warming February sunlight. One year, as the furry, thick buds pushed up, and their protective casings cracked open, I was over-eager, and I tried to ‘help’ the flowers by peeling back the pistachio-shaped protective pod from the furled petals, thinking this would encourage and allow the petals open sooner, freed from their constraints. I was wrong.

What happened was, I damaged the petals. My eagerness for their beauty ended up marring what they could have been. The flowers survived my ‘helping’, but they bore bruises and scars on their petals as the season progressed. It was a powerful lesson, and a sad season for me- each time I looked at my beautiful flowers— because yes, they were still beautiful— but they bore the marks my distrust of the process.

That’s what January is. Trusting the process, allowing the seasons to pass over your fields, and the work that can only be done in the dark to progress, without any ‘help’.

Warmest Welcome, 2014

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Let’s start it off with a not-very-flattering-but-supremely-genuine laugh-shot.

Making specific resolutions has never been in my wheelhouse. Much like Bean last night as Auld Lang Syne began playing, New Years Eve usually makes me a little melancholy and reflective. Bean started to cry as the clock stuck- it could have been a manic crash after hot chocolate and games in the park, but he was genuinely sad to say goodbye to 2013. I’m not. I’m delighted to be ushering in a new year- last year was full of rough patches- but I like to take some time and figure out what those lessons are, and how to authentically incorporate them into my real life.

So for this coming year, I hope for more laughter and genuine moments of joy. I hope to be able to recognize the grace and mercy I’m granted as it’s happening, and not just in retrospect. I hope for inspiration and the wherewithal to follow through on that inspiration. I hope to create and mine beauty from the raw materials God hands me, and I hope to be able to more fully share that beauty with the world. I hope to continue to find my voice as a woman, mother, writer, artist, and whatever else I am called to be. I hope for hope in my heart, and I hope for happiness in my home. I hope for those I love to have the strength and inspiration to walk the road that rises before them, and I hope to meet them on that journey.

Thank you, 2013. Welcome, with great hope, 2014.

Post-Christmas Wrap-up

Christmas was lovely here on the Eastern Seaboard- we wildly swung between two days over 70 degrees, followed up with flurries and 19 degrees. It’s never dull. The kids had a marvelous Christmas, and we have six more days of vacation to lollygag around and do whatever the heck we feel like. It’s pretty nice. Christmas will be coming down in a day or so, and I’m looking forward to 2014 with happiness. Hope your holiday was as lovely as ours. (did you make the eggnog truffles??)

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Brothers admire Abby’s Christmas dress.

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Endless Taco Night at the local taqueria.

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Icing cookies, per annual tradition.

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A few of dozens of socks I knitted this year…

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Christmas Morning. Bean woke up at 4 am. FOUR AM. This was at sunrise, until I could hold them off no longer.

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It was a good Christmas.

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Hands-down, the favorite present. Thanks, Santa!

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Easy Christmas: Eggnog Truffles.

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Awww yeah. You read that right. Eggnog truffles. The key to these is insanely simple: fresh grated nutmeg. Buy the whole nuts, use a microplane, and grate those babies yourself- it’s a whole new world. Fresh nutmeg is aphrodisiac of the gods. And you don’t need to spring for the expensive bottle at the grocery store- most international markets sell little packets of 5 or 6 whole nutmegs for around $2. Un-grated, they last a long time- grated, it looses much of it’s beauty in a matter of weeks. Onward now…

Christmas Eggnog Truffles

  • 12 ounces white chocolate chips (one standard bag)
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 4 Tablespoons soft butter
  • 1/3 cup full-fat eggnog (not alcoholic)
  • 1/4-1/2 teaspoon fresh grated nutmeg, to taste.
  • 12 ounces almond bark or other white chocolate coating

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  1. In a heat-safe bowl, add the white chocolate chips, the butter, salt and nutmeg. Set aside.
  2. In a saucepan over medium high heat, bring eggnog just to a simmer. It will happen quick- remove from heat and gently pour hot eggnog over chips and butter in heat-safe bowl.
  3. Let sit for a moment for the heat to soften the butter and chocolate, and then stir with a heat-safe spatula until everything is melted and smooth. If you need a little more heat, microwave in 10 second increments, but if you’re patient, the eggnog alone should work.
  4. Cover with plastic wrap and place bowl in refrigerator to cool and firm up, for at least a few hours.
  5. Once truffle mix is chilled, use a small spoon or candy scoop to make tablespoon-sized balls. Roll them in your hands, trying to keep the cool. Powdered sugar dusted on the hands can keep them from sticking. Store on a sheet pan or chilled plate.
  6. Microwave the almond-bark or white chocolate coating, following the directions on the package, until melted, easily stirred, and free of lumps.
  7. Dip each truffle gently, one at a time, in the coating, and place on a cool sheet to set. While the coating is still soft, sprinkle a pinch of fresh nutmeg on each one. The coating might need to be mircowaved as you proceed, to keep it melted. Follow package directions.
  8. Place set and cool truffles in pretty little micro-cupcake wrappers, and eat at room temperature. Store remainder, if there are any, in the fridge for up to a week.
  9. Don’t worry if they’re not perfect! They’re so good, no one will care!

Teaching the Spatula a Lesson

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Betty Crocker is a liar. Baking with children looks all fun and cozy in the adverts, but let’s be honest- baking with kids is just like sledding with kids. Currier & Ives and Betty Crocker are both peddlers of illusion. Packing little kids into their snowsuits and going out into a frozen world is an exercise in futility. And gloves on wiggly, glommy little fingers? Just like baking with little kids. Shoot me now. So. Baking…

Two of the kids need to bring cookies to school tomorrow. So we get to it when they tumble in the door from the bus. They have the attention span of gnats. It’s all fun in concept, but the actual measuring and the actual following of directions? I lost them before the first batch went in the oven. Perhaps had I taken them on separately…

Instead, we had flour flying everywhere when Jeff didn’t realize the mixer was on when he plugged it in- on high, of course. We had Abby drop eggshells in the mixer. We had boil-over when the microwave somehow got pushed for 2 minutes instead of 20 seconds to melt some butter. Just like in the commercial, right? So help me, I’m going to do a cooking show where I film what an ACTUAL 30-minutes in a harried mom’s kitchen looks like…

Then… Then as I was taking the first sheet of hot snickerdoodles (I love that word) out of the oven, juggling two more hot sheet-pans, I set one down on the edge of the counter. Picture, in slow motion, if you will, the sheet doing a cartwheel off the counter, hot cookies flying everywhere, and the pan landing, corner first, on my bare foot…

Cookies were everywhere. My foot was insulted, but fine. There were cookies, crumbled and steaming, in the crock pot, in a bag of un-put-away groceries, on the floor, on my pants, under the refrigerator… And I yelled. Much like the butter boiling in the microwave, I overflowed in a sailor-worthy streak that would have made grandpa Jack proud. It felt good to just throw an old fashioned temper tantrum. I threw the spatula across the kitchen, and it slid into the bathroom. There was giggling behind me.

I spun around, probably looking quite wild-eyed, and all three kids were standing in the doorway of the kitchen. They were trying not to laugh. Their eyes were mirthful and their shoulders were shaking, and were so enjoying my tantrum, and I was SO busted. Jeffrey quips, trying to hold in his giggles, “Boy, you really showed that spatula!” and the dam broke on the guffaws…

We stood in the kitchen laughing until our eyes were teary and our cheeks were red. Sometimes, when things totally go to crap, you end up with an awesome family memory anyway.

Random Crap: Massive Holiday Super Size

IMG_1227Two weeks ’til Christmas.

This morning I woke with not only a ridiculous pile of laundry on my bed I never got around to folding last night, but all three kids. You know, when you buy a king size bed, you imagine it will always be big enough… you’d be wrong.

I do believe I might be on my last pair of socks this Christmas.  I hope my socks don’t become the equivalent of an Ugly Christmas Sweater… Yeah. The knitting is clearly out of control.IMG_1209

IMG_1171Yes, that’s all three kids knitting. I’ve created monsters. Lovely, doubled twisted, woolen, bamboo needled monsters.

I’m not sure what’s going on, but I’m just not really all that twisted up about Christmas this year. Usually my house looks like Christmas threw up everywhere, but this year, I didn’t even get out the box of Christmas books. Is that part of the kids getting older? Or is it just me, tired and burnt out? I mean, don’t imagine we’re all severe and ascetic over here- we’ve decorated, the kids are buzzing with excitement, the tree is lovely and overloaded with ornaments… I’m just sort of… meh.

I’m trying to square away my baking list. Baklava, fudge, peanut blossoms, sugar cookies with royal icing, Russian tea cakes, and probably gingerbread. I’ll probably make Rosettes, too, on Christmas. Oh, and eggnog truffles. Can’t forget those.img_2771I get to use my Christmas dishes! One of my dear friends had her Christmas plans change, and her parents will be here, instead of in Utah; they’re coming for dinner Christmas night. My townhouse is not very big, and I haven’t had the ability to throw a party, but I adore having a houseful. I’ll be making this, among a host of other things.

My visiting teacher made us the coolest present- Who-flakes! I managed to hide them from the kids and have framed them as a surprise. Don’t forget, new Doctor Who on Christmas night, 9pm on BBC America!IMG_1229I got to go on a fantastic tour of the capitol recently- some friends included me in their visit to their elected friend, and we got to hang out on the congressional balcony and sit in the gallery of the Senate. Anyone can get passes, it’s true, but it was cool getting a personal tour and then hanging out at a famous pub on the Hill afterwards. I’m not sure if I’ll ever get used to seeing guys in flak jackets and ear-pieces all the time, though.IMG_1194We had our annual watching of ELF the other night, complete with hot chocolate, and caramels. We skipped the spaghetti with maple syrup.

Was treated to my very first Tidewater crab boil recently. I adore crab, but as a Northern Californian, to me crab meant something very different- either King or Dungeness- big, meaty legs and claws, depending on where you went. I’d never had a whole giant bucket of boiled crabs poured out on the table in front of me, all steaming and covered in Old Bay. It was a cultural experience, and certainly a social one. I may have turned a little green when it became clear we had to eviscerate our own dinner, and that dinner still had it’s little beady eyes. I totally squeamed out and had my friend tear their little bodies apart for me. Turns out I’m probably screwed if only crabs are available in a zombie apocalypse.IMG_1172Abby and I team-painted. The goal was to paint our favorite city. I lined stuff out, and we took turns adding things. I think she did a bang-up job. We’re thinking of sending this to Auntie Heather for Christmas. I hope you’re not reading, H!IMG_1212Life may not be perfect, but there is rich beauty to be found. And one final shot, because Dinosaur. Bean. Spaceman Spiff regarding his foe. Or some other lovely little platitude of the beauty of a boy child:IMG_1164

Ghosts in the Hall

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One of the facets to having the last eight-plus years of my life documented here in the open is that… well, it’s all there. There’s no deleting or erasing, or revisionist history even possible. It’s a risk I willingly took on when I decided to open the curtain on what, at the time, was a very typical and pedestrian life of a woman with young children and another on the way. That didn’t last long though, did it?

There is a vulnerability in choosing honesty. There is a vulnerability in being open about life, pain, struggle, failure, and even in success. One of my goals in life is to make it through without bitterness taking root in my heart and without fear being an overriding directive on how I make my decisions. Something I didn’t fully understand though is that when a person has repeatedly been through really hard things, those fears and uncertainty creep into your heart like crabgrass in a tended lawn. Or like dandelions, if you prefer.

There is a reason the colloquialism warns against resting on our laurels- to do so is to stop being an active participant in one’s life. Things we think are behind us still leave ghosts in the halls of our hearts, and we can treat them like foes, locking them away and pretending they aren’t real, or we can nod warmly as the spectre wanders by, realize it’s a part of us, and cease being afraid of our own reflection.

It is still surprising to me, four years out from my divorce, five years after the loss of the house, seven years after the addiction reared its ugly destroying head, how it’s still so very hard for me to trust happiness. It shouldn’t be surprising. But I get complacent, rest on my laurels, and think I can stop weeding.  It’s not just a deep taproot, my friends- it’s a labyrinth in my heart.

So I find myself now having to revisit those halls, pause and smile at the ghosts in the halls, and remind myself that these are my own familiars. Roosevelt was right- I have nothing to be afraid of except fear itself.

It’s a continually shifting and moving thing, our own fear- yet no matter when it’s found, it’s tied to the same sources below the surface. It’s dawned on me that the complicated walls of the labyrinth, that the criss-crossing network of roots and scar tissue, are not really the enemy. Those walls are strong; that woven, subconscious tangle of roots might actually be for my own good. Perhaps…just perhaps… the things we build as defenses— our scars, our network of roots— could be the work of a lifetime, and the only danger is in not knowing how and why they were built? I’m starting to believe the only real danger is being unwilling to see ourselves.

The things we build to protect ourselves in times of danger can be mighty foundations for a beautiful life. The key is never forgetting, never denying, where you came from.

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