I’ve moved

I’m blogging over on my author website now, and I hope you’ll join me.

I haven’t been consistent for quite some time (understatement). But I have a plan to start posting at least once a week, on Saturday mornings. I’ll continue to write about life in general, marriage, family, and so on — but my main focus will be the craft of writing and the struggles and joys of the journey.

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Dear Daddies

This Father’s Day will be the twelfth I have spent without my daddy, since he passed away in December, 1999. It will be the fourth without my father-in-law–in the fall of 2007, Pete lost his daddy, too.

And yet I still find myself searching through the Father’s Day cards at the store, hunting down the perfect one for each of them. For the first few seconds, it really is absent-mindedness. A blissful state of half-thinking that momentarily blocks my consciousness from the truth–that I will not see them again this side of Heaven.

It is an odd, paralyzing feeling to hold so much love for a person and yet find it impossible to express that love. To feel the tangible pressure of inexpressible gratitude for all those years of guidance, provision, affection.

For motorcycle rides, settled into Daddy’s generous stomach, his thick, strong arms hemming me in at each side.

For soft-spoken encouragement from Pete’s father, especially in regard to my writing.

For the joy of making Daddy laugh, sometimes so hard that his face turned pink and bright tears squeezed out of the corners of his eyes.

There were rough years between my daddy and me. Years that I thought would leave irreversible scars. Phone conversations that ended abruptly with hang-ups. Misunderstandings. Harsh words. Tears of sorrow and of anger. Years that Father’s Day cards were particularly hard to read, to choose, to buy.

But then there was grace, and mercy, and forgiveness, and miraculous restoration. And one year, I had to buy two cards because it was too hard to choose only one.

When reality hits and I pause in the card aisle, my hand in midair as I reach toward a card that looks promising, it takes me a minute to absorb the blow. Then, when I’ve taken a few breaths and settled my heart, I look through the cards anyway. And I don’t stop until I’ve found the perfect one for my daddy, and the perfect one for Pete’s. And I smile, and I hurt, and I say a silent prayer of gratitude to my Heavenly Father for the gift of earthly years with those strong, gentle, loving, wonderful daddies.

Then I slip the cards back into their places and let them go.

Giving Ourselves Away

A few weeks ago, I was talking with a friend from church whose family recently took in three foster children (a sibling group, ages 2, 6, and 10). She and her husband are one year away from sending their youngest child off to college. Their oldest three are all either finishing college or already out in the working world. Her husband is just a year or two away from retirement.

She shared with me the day-to-day struggles of caring for a toddler at her age, and dealing with the six-year-old calling her “Mommy” from the first day they met, and the palpable anger of the ten-year-old boy when he doesn’t get his way. She said she ends each day completely exhausted. Looking into her weary eyes, I believed it.

Then she said, “You know, we were really looking forward to our retirement years, and they’re so close now. We talked about how we would travel, and relax, and spend time together. And sometimes I feel like we’ve sacrificed our lives for these kids.”

She paused, leaned back in her chair with a smile, and said, “But that’s what it’s all about: giving ourselves away. What’s our life for, if not that?”

A Bit About Believing

My creative writing students are required to write in composition books every day. Often, I find notes to me: “Sorry this is boring,” or, “You don’t want to read this,” or, “I’m lame!”

They’re wrong, but I have to laugh because of what I’m thinking when words won’t flow: “I’m a hack. This will never happen.” It’s hard to maintain belief in your dreams when the road is so long and curvy and filled with pot-holes of disappointment.

That’s what made my latest birthday present from my husband so amazing.

He’d asked a friend of ours–a photographer–to make mock-up book covers for my two novels. Mind you, neither has been published (the second isn’t finished). But the book covers are so gorgeous, one guest at my surprise party asked where he could buy the books!

What’s truly incredible is what they represent: my husband believes. That there will be real book covers one day, covering real books, filled with words that I wrote in those impossible-feeling moments. When I can’t believe in myself, I look at those book covers and let his belief take over.

My students can’t wait to open their composition books when I return them. I write notes like, “You’re not lame,” and, “This isn’t boring–I wish you’d kept going.”

Find someone who believes in you; and find someone to believe in. It makes a difference–believe me.

Originally published in the Nov/Dec 2009 issue of Pikes Peak Writers NewMag.

Photos by Sandi Evans
Note: The Gathering Summer is now titled The Things We Leave Behind.

Living the Life

Yesterday I was in my all-too-usual state of barely suppressed frustration.  I was thinking of all the tasks on my to-do list, and how most of those tasks will only need to be redone in a matter of hours, days, or a week at most.  Dishes, laundry, bill-paying, cleaning the floor that looks streaky and attracts footprints the instant it’s dry.  Not to mention the tongue-marks that our puppy leaves, since apparently the floor is quite tasty.

Minor annoyance at life’s tediousness isn’t an enormous problem.  But too often, I find myself letting it balloon into frustration at life in general.  That’s when I start grumbling to myself — audibly if I’m alone.  And I wind up cranky, snappish, and not much fun to be around.

But yesterday, my normal progression of thoughts was interrupted somehow.  I don’t know why, but just before I got to the point of frowning and huffing, I remembered something.

When I was four years old, a bright, shiny dream took shape in my imagination and became a persistent, life-long goal.  That goal stayed with me all through school, college, early marriage, early motherhood, and even to this day.  That goal was to be a published writer.

So the thought that stood me upright yesterday, letting the steam mop do the huffing for me for a minute, was that I have reached that goal.  Five times over.  My name isn’t on the binding of any library books.  And that would be some kind of wonderful, to be sure.  But on five separate occasions in the past two years, editors have found my words to be worth paying for–worth printing and sharing with their readers.

Not only that, but I am living in a quiet, beautiful rural area–another dream I have nurtured for years, along with my husband.  Everybody in my little family likes one another at least 90% of the time.  I get to hang out with teenagers a couple of times a week, which is its own special sort of crazy, surprising joy.  And I’ve recently been dubbed the Editor of the Pikes Peak Writer NewsMag, which is as fun for me as playing video games is for my sweet husband and our girls.  (Yes, I really am that odd.)

I have an expandable file folder that I use in my Creative Writing Class, helping me organize assignments and notes for my lesson plans.  I customized it a bit with favorite quotes, and the one that I wrote on the front, with thick black permanent Sharpie, is by Henry David Thoreau.  It reads, “Live the life you’ve imagined.”

Even when I’m mopping, fluffing and folding, or filling a sink with hot soapy water for the second or third time in one day, I can remind myself that those tasks do not define my life.  They’re a small, necessary part of it, but they’re more like the salt and pepper, not the meat.  The core of my life, thanks be to God, is what I always imagined it ought to be.

I resolve to be grateful for the dreams I’m already living.  And then, to keep on dreaming.

Life with Mr. Puppy

Lord help me.  We got ourselves a puppy about a month ago, and I am exhausted.

Yes, we should have gotten a rescue dog.  I realize that, so please don’t leave a comment admonishing me for falling into the cute-little-puppy trap.  I already agree with you.

He is definitely cute.

Particularly in photos, or while sleeping.  And he’s little.  But only in size, not in personality.

The dog trainer we talked to a couple of weeks ago called him “a bold little guy.”  In other words, he is pushy, demanding, hyper, and exceedingly difficult to control.  He is, in short, a toddler who is not potty trained and who runs around the house without a diaper.

He is stretching my patience and forcing me–a committed homebody–out the door into the neighborhood for long, fast walks that wipe me out and pump him up.

I have met neighbors, which can be difficult to do when there are a few acres between each front door and mailbox.  It’s that cuteness thing again.  People in cars pull over and roll down their windows to see him.  People on bikes stop and coo.  People in their front yards drop their rakes to come and say hello.

All of which Mr. Puppy loves.  He squirms, wags, and makes hilarious semi-whining sounds as the neighbors approach, and then he attempts murder-by-licking.

If I can survive the puppy days, which is somewhat in doubt (I’ve already almost posted an item on Craig’s List to sell him), I think Mr. Puppy might change me for the better.

Let’s put it this way:  “If I do not kill him, he’ll make me stronger.”

Things I’ve Learned from Living in the Country…

…which you’d think would have been obvious before.

1. If you live on a dirt road in a particularly windy geographical area, you will be dusting much more often. Much, much more often. Particularly in warm weather, when the windows are open.

2. Goats are great for eating weeds. But they don’t know the difference between weeds and grass. And shrubs. And flowers. And the lower branches of pine trees.

3. If you live in the forest, you might not want to wrap your house in wood. The woodpeckers get confused. Which explains the large holes in the side of our house, where a smaller bird has recently moved in, nest, eggs, and all. And birds do not sleep all night long. Which means we don’t sleep all night long, since the interior wall opposite the exterior hole is in our master bedroom.

4. Dandelions are lovely. It’s a lot easier to adopt this mindset than to try to eradicate the happy little buggers from two acres of land. It helps to recite George Washington Carver’s famous quote: “A weed is a flower growing in the wrong place.”  It also helps that I have an endless supply of bouquets, presented by grubby little hands nearly every afternoon.

5. People think it’s really fun to drive as fast as possible on country roads. If you are one of these people, it might interest you to learn that all that dirt you’re kicking up has to land somewhere. (See #1.)

6. I love it, I love it, I love it. Dirt, dandelions, confused wildlife and all.