Monday, January 18, 2016

In the Reflecting Pool, the March on Washington, 1963

"The end is redemption, the end is reconciliation, the end is the creation of the beloved community."

                                                                   --Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

I don't recall holding grudges when I was younger. This seems to be a problem of my middle ages, one I'm trying to rid myself of.

I don't hold many grudges. I'm not sure "grudge" is even the right word, but I don't know another one. The source of my grudges? Not being loved enough. I think it boils down to that.

I have two friends who I've known for a long time--since college and grad school. Both are people I admire and look up to. People I love to talk to. But for some reason these friends no longer respond to my emails. No longer make an effort to keep up. I don't know why.

Now, one of my mottos is "You don't know what you don't know." You don't know when someone is having a hard time in her marriage, or when other family problems have proved overwhelming. People get depressed. Undone by life in general. So I try to keep this in mind when I think about these friends. There could be any number of reasons they've fallen out of touch.

Nonetheless, I have found myself feeling resentful toward my friends, and over time the resentment has hardened. But I don't think it's doing me much good. It feels corrosive to my spirit. It feels like a weight.

The wise and wonderful Anne Lamott has this to say about resentment:

When I first got sober in '86, I first heard someone say that harboring resentment is like drinking rat poison, and waiting for the rat to die. Resenting someone is about not forgiving them--thinking that they have done something to you so damaging or disgusting that the are beyond the pale; so therefore you are choosing to be toxic for the rest of your life, rather than to work and pray For the healing. You are willing to go through life not metabolizing the rat poison, so that this person should know what a morally repellent you believe them to be.

But the most horrible thing is that half the time, they aren't even AWARE of what it is you think they did to you. So it's a complete waste of your precious bile. When I am willing to have clogged bile ducts, because of a person who hardly thinks of me, or has no idea that he behaved like a total asshat, then I'm the crazy one. Good, because this is where my healing will begin. HELP.

I think she's right. So one of my jobs this year is to give up my resentments and grudges. Pray them away and let them go. To forgive and move on.

Step one in this process is to actually feel my feelings about the situation--to let myself fully feel the hurt, whether or not I've got all the facts. I don't think you can heal from a hurt until the wound has been fully exposed to the light. I have a habit of minimizing my hurt feelings. I have a habit of saying "who cares?" or "it doesn't matter."

That's one way hurt feelings fester into resentments and grudges, I'm pretty sure.

So I'm going to go through the painful process of feeling things, and then after that I can (begrudgingly, I'm sure) work on forgiveness. Because

a) forgiveness is required for my own mental health; and

b) it is required of me by the faith that I supposedly practice; and

c) I don't know what I don't know.

Here's the other thing I plan to do: Write back to the friends who write me. Call the friends who call. Be grateful for all the friends I have who continue to love me in spite of my own flawed self.

Monday, January 11, 2016

Who Will Clean While I Make the Quilts?

Funky Star

So it's a new year, and as I do every year  I've made my annual list of resolutions for my children. This year I've resolved that they will do more around the house. They've always had to do chores, but the fact is they could pitch in a lot more than they do. Over Christmas, as I was performing open heart surgery   climbing Mt. Everest  cursing the holidays  working my tuchus off to get everything ready, I started to grow ... what is the word for it? Resentful. Yes, that is the word for it. There they were, my wonderful boys, doing absolutely nothing while I did absolutely everything. This must change, I told myself. And so it has.

Sort of.

Jack now does the dinner dishes. Will vacuums every day and puts the water glasses on the table for dinner. Both of them are supposedly making their beds every morning, but that's hit or miss. Will is doing his laundry, but hasn't gotten around to the folding part. Jack has been doing his laundry for years--still doesn't fold.

The thing neither of them seem to be able to do? Put the dang cap back on the toothpaste. Why is this? I'm trying not to focus all of my energy on one tiny thing, but good grief, fellas!

(The New York Public Library has digitized its 
photography collections!)

The hard thing is not nagging. I'm doing my best to simply, gently remind. I send Jack funny texts, mention to Will oh-so-nonchalantly that I'd love to have the living room vacuumed by, say, dinnertime?

Which reminds me, Jack still hasn't done the dinner dishes. Sigh. Time to text.


Can I tell you something? I'm so over making dinner right now. It's not that I mind cooking, I just don't want to have to cook. I'd rather read.


Do I have resolutions? I'm not really a resolution girl, but I would like to pay closer attention as Travis and I take our walks around the neighborhood. I walk Travis almost every morning, and it's always one of two walks. We go to the end of our street and either turn right or left. Travis always chooses, and he always alternates.

I like taking the same two walks. Which are never the same two walks. We've lived in this neighborhood for almost nine years, and I've gotten to know all the yards really well. I've gotten to know the light. And still I see new things every day.

This is my neighbor's garage. The windows are at the back of the garage. You can look through them to the backyard. Usually the garage door is down, so I've never had this view before. (If you click on the picture, you can see their winter garden + sculpture.)

This is the bottom of my street in the late afternoon. There's something about the light here that's very January to me.

I saw this car this morning. Don't know who Aunt Puddin' is. Wish I did. Do you have an Aunt Puddin' in your neighborhood? I think every neighborhood should have one.

What are you resolved to pay attention to this year?

Sunday, December 27, 2015

My Dears

 I am still here. But where have I been?

Mostly working on projects that have made me very happy. Good work. But consuming.

Let me update you. We're having a lovely Christmas. Some Christmases aren't lovely. Some Christmases I never get the spirit, or get it but lose it quickly. This Christmas was the same as others in ways. I felt like it was too much work. I hate presents (except that I love presents). We do too much, spend too much.

But an hour after we'd opened our presents Christmas morning, my whole family was sitting in the living room, the tree twinkling before us, drinking Christmas punch and reading our new books, and it was so peaceful and lovely I wanted to bottle it.

The boys are good. Jack left this morning for the mountains. His friend Charlie invited him and several other classmates up to his family's cabin in western North Carolina for several days. Originally the plan was to ski, but it's so warm there's not even fake snow on the slopes. But this is a crew of kids who love to game, and so I suspect they will spend a lot of their time playing Risk and D&D and enjoying their first foray into what feels like freedom.

This is Jack at the Man's family Christmas party we went to last weekend. He is one tall drink of water, that's for sure.

Will has been sleeping in until 1 or 2 p.m.! He's suddenly taller than me, which I have mixed feelings about. Thank goodness for Travis, or I'd be the shortest one in the room.

Travis and I have taken a lot of walks the last two days. My jeans are feeling tight. Tonight we had turkey soup for dinner. Time to start walking away from all the pies and Chex mix, I'm afraid. I can gain three pounds just looking at sugar, and I believe I have. Sigh. Tomorrow is another day, am I right?

I hope you're having a lovely holiday. Did you get any good books for Christmas?

ETA: My Christmas books include The Lake House by Kate Morton, Dispatches from Pluto by Richard Grant, Only Time Will Tell by Jeffrey Archer, Fairy Tale Girl by Susan Branch, The Givenness of Things by Marilyn Robinson and The Shepherd's Life by James Rebanks.

Friday, October 30, 2015

My Halloween Baby

Tomorrow Will turns 13. Earlier today the Man and I recollected the night that Will was born. Around midnight of October 31st, 2002, I thought my dinner was disagreeing with me. Then it struck me I might be going into labor. The Man called the hospital, but the hospital was not impressed with my contractions. And then suddenly my contractions were coming faster and faster. We hopped into the car (okay, I don't think I was hopping mood at that point; I think the Man half-carried me to the car) and sped off to the hospital. I was fairly sure I was going to give birth in the backseat of our Honda Accord, but amazingly I didn't. Made it into a wheelchair, into the delivery room, and a few minutes later, Will was born. I believe I was still begging for an epidural at the time.

When Will was born he looked like a prizefighter. Who'd lost. Jack had been a beautiful baby and was a beautiful toddler and we felt so bad for Will, the ugly duckling. But around the time he turned six-months old, he blossomed into a pretty baby. He's still  cute.

He's getting old, though. Tonight he's at the school dance. Last year the sixth graders could go to the spring dance, but Will wanted no part of it. This year, there was no question that he'd go. I dropped him off at a friend's house around 5:00 so they could all get ready together.

He called from the dance just a few minutes ago, wanting to know if he could the spend the night at his friend's house. Now, we're pretty good with the last minute sleepover requests, but usually Will's asking to stay with one of his friends we know well and whose family we know. This friend we don't know. I'm friendly with his mom and like her a lot, but we're not close. And the friend has an older brother I don't know at all. On top of that,  I don't know this family's policies on Internet usage, whether or not they have HBO (and let their kids watch it), if they allow phones upstairs (we don't), etc., etc. So my answer was no.

He seemed okay with the decision. I remember asking my parents if I could sleep over at somebody's house and halfway hoping they'd say no. Maybe Will felt the same way about this sleepover. Who knows?

So happy birthday, Will; sorry you'll be waking up on your birthday in your boring old room with your boring old dog (Travis!) scratching at the door. Me, I'm glad you'll be home with us. You'll spend plenty of birthdays out on the town; we've only got you for a little while longer.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Quick Update

So I know you're dying to know how the colonoscopy went, although probably not in detail. Okay, so here's the scoop: much to my amazement, it was a piece of cake. The day before wasn't a whole lot of fun, but I learned something: I can fast. Well, I can fast as long as fasting includes drinking a lot of chicken broth and eating bowls of lemon jell-o. I never knew that about myself.

Here's the thing. If you've ever given birth, without or without drugs, pretty much everything else is easy peasy--root canals, gum surgery, colonoscopies, whatever. This is something I forget and then I'm reminded: I'm a soldier. I've been through the wars. 

Anyway, if you're at that age when it's time to get your first colonoscopy (that would be 50), then please do. Colon cancer is the third most common cancer, excluding skin cancers (the first two are lung and prostate, interestingly enough). Getting screened is the best way to prevent it. Colonoscopy bonus? Once you get home, you just nap and snack and watch saved episodes of "The Great British Baking Show" all day. Really, it's like getting a free vacation.

So now it's late and I'm about ready for bed, but I remembered that I wanted to get back into my blogging routine. So here I am to say hello and get a colonoscopy when it's time and I'm reading Patti Smith's new memoir, M Train, and it's really good but to enjoy it you have to be the sort of person who doesn't mind it when writers aren't particularly linear, something I don't mind in nonfiction but can't really handle in fiction.

All right then: see you Friday with more public service announcements!

P.S. Do you watch The Great British Baking Show? So much fun! You can check out episodes on PBS online--

Monday, October 5, 2015

I'm not looking forward to Friday ...

I am 51 years old. For the last year I've put off the procedure doctors encourage you to undergo when you enter your 5th decade . Do you know which one I mean? Starts with "colon" ends with "oscopy"? Ideally I should have gotten one the minute I turned 50, but for some reason I kept putting it off ... who knows why?

Oh,  I think we all know why. But Friday, I bite the bullet and get 'er done. I've been dreading it since I made the appointment. No, I've been dreading it since I was 45 and know the dreaded c-oscopy was a mere five years away.

I would like to write about something other than having this procedure, but it's on my mind. I've been snacking all day, storing up fuel for Thursday, the day of the big fast. The day of chicken broth and lemon jell-o. I imagine some people lose weight in the days preceding their colonoscopy; I suspect I'll gain five pounds.


We had such a strange weekend. Will was out of the house almost the entire time. On Friday afternoon, he went to a friend's house, and then on Saturday morning he went to another friend's birthday party and ended up spending the night. Sunday afternoon he went to the movies some other friends.

I'm glad Will has lots of friends, but I'm not sure I'm ready to give him up yet. I've had a couple of dreams recently where he's a baby again, and I think I know why.

The other strange thing that happened this weekend is that the Man and I went to a party where we knew virtually no one and had a great time. I've recently gotten to be friends with a woman in my neighborhood who also goes to our church. She turned 50 last week and had a humongous birthday party on Saturday night. Our plan was to go in, give her a bottle of wine, wait around for 15 minutes and then go get a pizza. We were there for over three hours. My socializing strategy for meeting people was to go up to individuals or couples standing by themselves and say, "Hi, I'm Frances, this is my husband, and we don't know anybody here."

We met a lot of people that way. We made new best friends for life. We also saw some other folks from church, and my dog-walking neighbor Mel, who was wearing long pants. I never see Mel in long pants--he runs marathons and is always dressed for a run when I see him. We ran into Will's youth group leader and learned the origins of her admittedly odd first name.

So, yes, the two introverts enjoyed themselves. We were glad we went. We were glad to go home when it was over. For a few hours, I forgot about my colonoscopy. Life was good. It will be good again.

Friday, October 2, 2015

Friday Report

So you're wondering how it went with Betty. I think it went well, though I was sort of weirdly exhausted by the end of it. Certainly the house--or the rooms that Betty and her three daughters cleaned--were beautiful, shiny and fresh. They cleaned the dust off the ceiling fan and made the boys' bathtub a thing of beauty. I couldn't be more pleased.

I was interested that when they were done cleaning Betty left a religious tract on my counter with a note ("Thank you for letting us clean your house, I hope you're happy with the job we did today ..."). The tract is the sort that most of us are familiar with--Did you know that Jesus died on the cross for your sins so that you wouldn't burn in Hell? Say the Sinner's Prayer today so that you will be saved. Given that I have a postcard of Mary and baby Jesus on my fridge alongside a poem by Kathleen Norris called "Imperatives" that begins,

Look at the birds
Consider the lilies
Drink ye all of it
Enter by the narrow gate
Do not be anxious
Judge not; do not give dogs what is holy ...

you'd think I might have been given a pass on the whole "we're concerned about the state of your soul" thing, but I guess not. A little disappointing, I have to say.

It's funny having a stranger in your house, especially one that's mucking about in your space for a couple of hours. You start to see what's weird about your stuff, at least if you're me. For instance, for the last three or four years we've had this dangling from our livingroom ceiling,

which is a dried bundle of Salvia clippings from the garden. The Man trimmed back the plants one day and liked how the remnants looked, so naturally he bound them together and hung them from a hook, as one does (the hook was already there--I believe the previous owners of the house hung a lamp from it). I've always loved our Salvia, but looking at it through Betty's eyes, I could understand that she might think us quite insane.

Then there's our fireplace mantle, that runs the length of the wall, upon which we have displayed all sorts of things, including one of the Man's many fine documentary photographs, various children's art projects and some barbecue sauce:

Sometimes I wonder what my children think when they go to other people's houses. Do they think, "Ah, at last, normal decor?" Or do they think the normal stuff is weird? Do they wonder where the display of barbecue sauce is? Where their friends parents display their bundles of sticks?


So I believe the house cleaner experience was a success. When I get rich, I'll have Betty and her daughters (everyone in the family is stunningly gorgeous, by the way--it's like have the cast of "Petticoat Junction" clean your house) come weekly. Will they bring me religious materials to read every time they come? Will the tracts become increasingly scarier? Should I start leaving my Bible out in obvious places? I'm curious to find out what happens next. Stay tuned!