The Inadequacy of Words

There are things I need to write that I just have no idea how to write. There are emotions that are too vast, so far out of scale to the rest of life, that you are left bewildered, wondering what happened and what normal will mean now.

My ex-husband David died yesterday.

Looking over and over at those little words on the screen, they don’t seem real.

David came into my life when I was barely more than a girl. He was one of the best friends I have ever had. He walked beside me for a decade as my friend before we married, and he taught me priceless lessons about life, love, growth, change and courage. Our marriage lasted ten years, and contained some of the highest and brightest pinnacles of my life, and some of the deepest and darkest sorrows. In the almost six years since the divorce, we were able to remember and rely on our decades of friendship to forgive each other, to heal, and to place our children first.

There is a lot I want to say— a lot I need to say— stories I want to tell, things I want to preserve for my children about their first father.  More than anything, I am awash in sorrow and grief that my children will not know the man I knew and loved. He was so much more than they got to experience in their young lives, and there is nothing I can do to change the fact that life is hard, and unfair, and sometimes pain gets the better of us and the world loses what might have been.

I can’t believe he’s gone.

Blended Families

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Family barbecue with my dad and my step-dad hanging out with Jeffrey.

My parents divorced when I was seventeen. Not that there’s ever an easy time to go through something like that, but seventeen is a rough time for your folks to spit. You’re on the verge of adulthood, so many things hang in the balance, you’re still a kid in so many ways, but you’re also figuring out how to transition into making some pretty important decisions about life. While that part of my life had the imagined turbulence, there’s one thing my parents did right, and for which I still commend them to this day—My parents never made their issues part of my or my siblings’ lives.

I’ve written a little about this before, but I’m reminded again of how vital this has been to the longterm health and happiness of me and my siblings. We are on vacation in California right now, at a lake near Yosemite. My entire family has come together- my mom and step-dad, my dad and step-mom, my siblings and half-sibling, all the wives and children. My mom and step-dad welcome my dad and my step-mom and their daughter into their home as openly and warmly as they welcome everyone. My dad rents a cabin down the lane from my mom. My aunt and cousins come up from the Bay Area, and there are scads of children, communal means, and summer birthdays to celebrate.

The thing is? It’s always been this way.

I’m absolutely certain, when I look back with adult-eyes, that there was tension and sorrow between my parents. However, both parents always celebrated our milestones together, my dad and step-dad coached my brothers in Little-League together, we share holidays, and it’s not at all unusual for my dad to walk into my mom’s place and just hang out, maybe have a beer with my step-dad, and shoot the breeze. This is the only model I know. This has made all the difference to me and my siblings. It’s the model I assumed  and tried to follow when Jon and I combined our families.

Alas, it takes two people to row the boat in the right direction. If only one person is will to row, the boat just goes in a circle. It’s really sad, because I know what’s possible and what a gift it is to the children for the parents to set aside their differences and get along. But we can’t do it alone.  I do know it’s not only possible, but is a beautiful thing with long-reaching ripples in everyone’s lives when forgiveness is practiced, and the children are truly put first. I’ve seen it in my own family, and I’ve seen it in my husband’s family. Love, without reservation.

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At the lake the other day, there were more than twenty people in our family group. There are new marriages, old marriages, second marriages, adopted children, step-children, natural children, original families, and blended families. As far as the children are concerned, there is no difference. My kids have three grandpas. My children have two dads, and three grandmas. They have more aunts and uncles than I can count- and it doesn’t matter where they came from; I do not rank family. My children loving another person takes nothing away anyone else. The heart is not a limited resource. Family is family, and as far as I can see, no matter which way I look at it, having more people love my children is absolutely a net good. That love isn’t about me, or about my preferences or about me forcing my will on the world. That love is about me getting out of the way and allowing the goodness in others to grow between my children in their relationships with those who love them. And there is no such thing as too much love for a child— or for a family.

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Also, here is a shot of Bean paddle surfing. He rocked it. Straight up. Even when he fell off and lost the paddle. My cousin and Jon were down at the shore, coaching him on how to get back up, and he did it. Abby took a turn, too- though she ended up riding the current into a mud bar and getting rescued by a kayaker. So she got a kayak ride, too. Always an upside…

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What’s Goin’ On…

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I loathe camping. I mean, I’ve camped a lot in my life- my dad is a hunter, and a campfire with sleeping bags in the back of the pickup truck are not foreign to me- I even set a sleeping bag on fire once when I put a too-hot towel-wrapped brick near our feet in a futile effort to keep warm during winter camping. If I have to, I can do it. But since having children, the desire to rough-it has utterly departed. The thought of camping with Bean when he was little was enough to make me nauseated. Can you even imagine…? I feel sick. So of course, I got asked by my church to help with the young women’s Girls’ Camp this year.

It was far more fun than I expected. I met some lovely new friends. Another woman and I were in charge of the Craft Cabin, and we had to come up with fun things for the girls to make during the week. I was able to head to the camp, spend the day, and then return back home to sleep in bug-free solid-walled glory. It was the best camping experience ever, and I totally fell in love with working with the teen girls. My tables were filled with honestly remarkable conversations floating in and out all day, peppered with clever observations, thoughtful ideas, and hard questions. I would join in at times, and at other times, I would sit back and just listen. I feel far more optimistic now about heading into the teen years with my own kids than I did a few days ago.

For my part, I taught a lesson on computer coding, put together by my friend Cynthia, which you can find full support for at BCC. The girls learned about binary code, and then made necklaces using the code they’d learned. As a nod to my hippie past, we also made prisms on beaded hangers. It went swimmingly, and I’m so glad I was called to help.

Our car has been kaput off and on for a couple of weeks now. The dealership finally gave us a loaner car while they farm out the beast and build it some new insides. Of course this happens at the worst possible time, with summer and five kids filtering in and out. We have to take two cars everywhere, and it’s a first world problem and I’m super glad for the loaner. I still want my car back. Soon.

For the first time in about a million years, my family is having something of a reunion this summer. We haven’t all been together in… well, maybe ever. The east coast contingent will be there, the northwest contingent will be there, the local contingent will be there, moms, dads, steps, cousins, siblings and all he grandkids. I’m pretty excited, and plan on spending the better part of the week dividing my time between my mom’s pool and the lake where she lives.

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Bean’s got a new teacher for home-study this summer, and she has made all the difference. This teacher is patient, kind, thoughtful, specific and firm, and tremendously patient. Did I mention patient? He loves her, and she’s working on supporting him as we head towards middle school in the fall. Middle school is such a nightmare for any kid, but when you add in ASD… well, I’d do anything to help smooth the way for him. I’d even go camping, if it helped. Which it won’t.

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This kid got an award from the POTUS for good grades. He also spent a week at Scout Camp, and while he initially thought he loved camping as much as I did, but it turns out he actually had a great time. He chopped wood, hauled food, swam, learned to make stuff, and earned five merit badges towards his Eagle Scout, which he’s decided he wants. He also starts (gulp!) football this summer. I’m not ready. And high school this fall. I’m REALLY not ready.

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Abby spent all her birthday money buying rocks. Er, excuse me… MINERALS. (They’re MINERALS, Marie!) She’s planning on doing some geologic exploration this summer, and I think it will require her pickaxe, a brunton compass, and perhaps a USGS topographic quadrant map. Oh, and she got a perfect 4.0 for the entire year and is starting AP classes in the fall.

Things are going lovely at our new ward. People have been kind, thoughtful, friendly and considerate towards our family, and we’ve been made to feel welcome and even loved. What a nice change of pace, eh?

I’m beginning to warm up my mental facilities in preparation for heading back to grad school. I’m not ready to talk about it yet much beyond acknowledging I have unfinished business, and I want those extra letters after my name. The wheel goes round.

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My heart was sweetly aching last week as I watched my Facebook feed fill with photos of my friends at the two California shows of the final five Grateful Dead shows ever. These was the reuniting of the four remaining members, more than two decades after Jerry Garcia died. It’s hard to believe it’s been 25 years since I found my way to my first Dead show in Sacramento. I don’t even know how many shows I saw in the ensuing five years, but it was a foundational segment of my life, and comprises a facet of who I am today. I tried to get tickets to any of the final three shows in Chicago this weekend, but it just wasn’t possible. See: five kids, a new transmission and grad school. Adulthood is hard. So I put on one of my early shows last night and watched film of the Mardi Gras shows at Oakland with my husband. Thankful the Dead always allowed taping, and every show ever is archived and at the tips of your Googling fingers.

I have a new book coming out this fall- it’s a volume of essays my dear friend and colleague Emily Jensen and I edited, and I’m thrilled about it. You can see it on Amazon here.

I think that brings me up to date, mostly. Maybe now I can get back to writing for reals.

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JORD Watch Father’s Day Giveaway Winner!

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Since I have gotten to know a lot of you, the kind folks at JORD suggested we use a Random Number Generator to pick the winner of the Father’s Day Watch Giveaway. Et voila:

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Thus, Kyle M (no relation) was the sixteenth comment on the giveaway! Congratulations, Kyle- please email me with your contact information, and JORD will mail you your gift certificate so you can choose from among their beautiful watches.

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Thank you everyone- this was fun!

Father’s Day Giveaway: JORD Watches

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The Dover 41 Watch

I have a long history of loving items crafted of wood- for years I worked in the toy industry in Germany and my children all had wooden teethers, rattles and a myriad of wooden toys. They still do. I have a wooden pen that is beloved. My cutting boards are Boos, and Bean even eats his English Muffins from hand-crafted wooden plates I’ve had for more than a decade. Wood craft has a place close to my heart.

A few weeks ago, JORD Watches sent Dandelion one of their wooden watches to review. I don’t do product reviews very often, and I told them I wouldn’t take any compensation for a good review; if they wanted a review, it would be honest. They readily agreed to provide Jon a watch, and let their product speak for itself. That’s a good start as far as I’m concerned.

First and foremost, JORD watches are beautiful. Jon’s watch arrived in a wooden box with a sliding lid, which in itself is a testament to careful craftsmanship. The watch had been sized for his wrist (I provided the measurements prior to ordering) and an extra link and directions for additional sizing were provided.

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Jon received the 94A Cherry Watch.

Jon set to wearing it immediately. He works in a federal office building in DC, so he spends a lot of time in a typical business environment. He’s your typical dad with five kids on the weekends. His observations:

  • It’s really beautiful, and people notice and commented on it. It’s something of a conversation piece, and his coworkers asked about it.
  • It’s quite lightweight, even though it’s fairly substantial in size. This is not a low-profile or slim watch- which was totally fine with him. He likes a big watch.
  • He was surprised how well it wore- he had expected it to be fragile, and while it really is more of a dress watch (don’t power-wash the deck wearing it- they can handle being splashed, but not submersed. Really not a surprise given the whole wood thing.) it handled basic bumps and knocks of every-day life well.
  • We had a little trouble adjusting the size- it was slightly snug for his wrist- but the company was terrific about walking us through changing the link, and even offered to have us send it back so they could do it. We didn’t need to.

So at the end of his test-wearing, I asked him how he felt. In true manly fashion, he shrugged and said “I really like it.” More to the point, it looks terrific on his wrist, and I like it. Jon’s brother, who is similarly sized, tried it as well, and had a similar reaction, then spent some time looking at the other models on the company’s website. The consensus was that these are just unique enough to be interesting but not so attention-pulling to be a distraction. And the bottom line, they’re incredibly beautiful and work for both professional and casual wear.

JORD has been kind enough to offer a watch as a giveaway for Father’s Day here at Dandelion. If you’d like to enter to win, please leave a comment about the dad you’d like to see wear one of theses lovelies—even if it’s you. A winner will be selected Sunday, June 21. Please do check out their website to see the other beautiful timepieces (they have ladies’ models, too).

Thank you to JORD watches for setting this up, and for thinking Dandelion dads might like their beautiful product.

Imperfect Knowledge

5104d43a0b5cf.preview-620The following is an excerpt from a talk I gave Sunday in my DC Metro area ward.

We are very fond of using the language of certainty when we speak of the gospel, when we give our testimonies, and when we share our faith with our friends and family. We love to say “I know…” and we do so with such confidence that it becomes a linguistic tic of Mormonism. “I know the church is true…” What does that even mean? And what message does the language of unwavering certainty send to people whose faith is formed from different mettle? We sometimes imagine proclaiming knowledge is solid and comforting, and perhaps to some— or even to many— it is, but as an adult convert, I believe the framing of certainty, of “knowing” as the only expression of testimony can actually create an unintended gulf between members of the body of Christ’s church. Continue reading

Reminder: Spiritual Vampires

This is a post I wrote a few years back. It’s actually kind of astounding how important this is to remember.

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Dear children, of all the wisdom imparted on me by your father, one of his greatest lessons was that there are such people as vampires. Oh, now, don’t be all silly- as much fun as it might be to imagine moldering old French vampires preying on the criminals of New Orleans, or as shallow and vapid as those sparkly versions that came later might be- that’s simply misdirection.

The vampires you must be careful of- the vampires that are not fun to imagine but who do exist and can actually harm you are Spiritual Vampires.

Common folklore tells that a vampire cannot see their reflection in a mirror. Spiritual Vampires cannot see their own reflection in anything. A Spiritual Vampire cannot see how they effect others or what repercussions their actions have on other lives and souls. Even more damning, they refuse to see or acknowledge their part in anything that happens in their lives. Everything— everything— is the fault of someone else. It doesn’t matter how many loving people try and give them genuine feedback, try and guide them, plead with them, hold up mirrors (if you will) for them to see themselves accurately, it doesn’t work. The Spiritual Vampire cannot see themselves except from their own side.

Just like a French Vampire or a sparkly one (if you insist. sigh) these vampires prey on the weak or those who wish to please. It’s in their interest to keep people naive to their natures, and they will obfuscate and manipulate and deceive, and the part that makes them so (very, very) dangerous is that they believe their own lies. When prey ceases to surrender to the narrative of the vampire, when the mark starts to question the story, or look askance, the vampire must slander or excise that person from their lives, lest the fear of being discovered- or worse, having to look at themselves. This must be avoided at all costs. All roads lead to their own control. A person who actually sees the Spiritual Vampire is a great threat to their perceived well-being.

These folks burn through friends. Or at least, what they call ‘friends’. It’s impossible to cultivate a real friendship with a vampire, because they cannot let go of their control, or of their insatiable thirst for validation of their own rightness of position. It’s not blood they need to survive, but undying loyalty to their rigid beliefs. Do remember, the weight of their own construct is crippling. Have pitty. But don’t get too close.

If you find yourself engaged with a Spiritual Vampire, your life actually can be in danger— no, you won’t be exsanguinated— but your energy, your identity, your will to power, your individuality, your unique opinions and sense of self will all be expected to be sacrificed upon their altar to support their construct and beliefs. And all that you have to offer will never be enough.

In fighting this kind of vampire, just as in the models of yore, sunlight is your best weapon. Fling open the windows, invite in fresh air, speak what you know as your own truth, and never be sucked into the idea that you are responsible for anyone else’s self worth. Never let anyone convince you that they are the arbiter of yours, either. Treat people with love, kindness and honesty, take responsibility for your own actions, don’t manipulate, control or blame others. Stand in the sunlight. If anyone tries to tell you that you owe them more… get out your mirrors. Or…just get out.

The emotional and psychic drain of a Spiritual Vampire is real, children. Consider yourself warned. Also, it wouldn’t hurt to watch old reruns of Buffy. (Of course that’s true for a multitude of situations and is always good advice.) Now, here, eat this garlic bread and go play. Love, Mama