12Jan

Bandwagon

We’ve been back nearly a week in a house with wireless internet connection and more computers than human beings, yet my Google Reader is still shouting at me in bold type: 109 unread posts! Now it’s 110! Alert! Social prospects dwindling! (My computer is often as dramatic as I am, coincidentally.) I’ve been working my way back to the blogging bandwagon a few minutes at a time and spending the rest of each day on activities that don’t come with touch pads or hyperlinks… but even as I’ve left my computer to pine away at my desk, the internet community has been a significant part of the last two weeks.

For instance, one side of our guest room is now stacked with bags of clothes—scratchy wool sweaters that look great but make me want to claw my own skin off, favorite outfits from the Stone Age college, and good quality undershirts that resolutely refuse to stay tucked in. As I bagged up a chunk of my closet for charity, I kept in mind the revolutionary (to me) insights picked up over the past year from Reachel at Cardigan Empire. She contends that clothes should work to flatter us, not the other way around, and that a sparse collection of outfits that make us feel truly fabulous is better than a closet bursting with “nothing to wear!” items. Who knew? I applied the principle to the girls’ overflowing and rarely-touched bin(s) of toys as well, and now everyone feels a little lighter. In a very good way.

I’ve been holing up in the kitchen as well with my favorite Starbucks apron (technically it’s Dan’s, but until a good fairy brings me one of these, I’ve claimed it as my own) and inspiring new flavors on the brain. It’s hard to believe that when we got married, my cooking skills were limited to microwave chicken nuggets and canned corn. For the leaps and bounds my culinary ability has taken, I am forever indebted to food bloggers like Pioneer Woman, Bakerella, Molly from Orangette, and Deb at Smitten Kitchen. They taught me how to dice onions and braise pork roasts and decorate cupcakes and melt chocolate, how to make everyday cooking an art, and how to find pure joy on the stovetop. I even like vegetables now; this is no small feat.

In the midst of weeding through clothes and cooking up heart-warming meals and climbing (and sliding back down) the ever-growing slopes of Mount Laundry and busying myself with the million little tasks of a mother, the gentle gratefulness of NieNie and Kindness Girl and Royal Buffet’s Mollie Greene have pulled my attention back to my treasure of a family. I’ve had invaluable moments with my husband and girls over the last few weeks, plopping down on the rug to build Legos, whooping Bowser’s spiky green butt with our Wiimotes, and working out together. Too often, I let busyness get in the way of togetherness, and I’m so grateful for the reminders to love our quirky little household intentionally.

In honor of the fresh-faced new year, I wrote down a handful of happy challenges in lieu of resolutions—a habit I’ve picked up from Andrea of Superhero Journal who suggested putting a positive, uplifting spin on goals. Peaceful sleep is on my agenda for 2010, as are creative financial saving and properly-applied eye makeup. (That one’s already checked off with the help of an eye shadow quad and a short video tutorial; can someone please explain why this took me so many years to try?) Megsie and Elizabeth of Bluepoppy fame have written about the yes factor as well, and I’m in good company as I set off into an inspiring new year.

I took Color Me Katie’s philosophy to heart when faced with the drab task of de-Christmasing the house and made a party of it. I rearranged the girls’ room with concepts picked up from interior design sites like Ohdeedoh and friends like Lizardek to open up more focused playspace. I’ve stolen away from the housework to write my monthly letters to the girls, an oh-so-wonderful tradition that I first learned about from Dooce (and have often regretted not thinking up myself back when Natalie was a baby). Inspired by the ability of bloggers like CJane, Christina from MyTopography, and Nina at The Whole Self to distill daily life to its most beautiful components, I’ve been making a list of the loveliest moment in each day of 2010 to look back on this time next year. I’ve also been picking up The Message and searching through its pages for the kind of open-hearted, un-sermonized spirituality that I so admire in Rachelle of Magpie Girl, Rae from Journey Mama, and Sam, the Sunday School Rebel herself.

Perhaps this only emphasizes how much I need to work on real-life socialization, but I feel so fortunate to be part of the “giant pool of wisdom” as Rachelle calls it, the collection of kindred spirits and talented writers who indirectly share their lives with me. So thank you, dear blogosphere… and please keep in mind that my being away from the computer busy with living and loving is most definitely your fault.

4Jan

Sea Legs

It’s snowing in Venice today. We’re tucked up on the mainland without either the outerwear or the gumption to attempt sightseeing, so I content myself with peeking out of our friends’ window at the park, its lake half-frozen and dotted with disinterested seagulls. As always when snow falls, the world is silent.

The quiet seeps over me in little waves, both relaxing and unsettling. I realize what I do every January—that the holidays have directed my time with such a sense of obligation that I’ve lost grasp of myself. Again. Every day of the past few weeks, my need for stretches of personal peace has been reasoned away with “We only get to see them once a year” and “The sale only lasts today” and “He’s taking vacation time for this.” I am incredibly grateful we were able to spend our holidays with family and friends, but I did an abysmal job of recharging… and I’m not sure how much anyone enjoyed my tightly-wound, guilt-enforced presence.

This afternoon, with the house to myself and a few quiet hours stretching ahead, I feel unsteady. Duties swoop and dive like hungry gulls—clean the bathroom, write an e-mail, catch up on blogs, make a phone call, work on the budget, edit photos. But I want my sea legs back, my calm center, my sense of belonging in this deep peace, and that means following one particular obligation to myself.

Hint #1: It starts with “n” and ends with “aptime.”

Hint #2: Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz….

1Jan

Trade-In

There are two things I should say before we begin:
1) I slept until noon today, and
2) it was entirely necessary.

I would like to say this was due to our wild party-animal instincts, but the drab truth is that we saw 31 too-late nights in December and were destroyed (as we say in Italian). I am a little miffed with this holiday season for hinting at long, languid hours of relaxation when it actually meant a sort of continuous harried feeling. Gifts to be gathered, events to be attended, games to be played, food to be cooked, meaningful time to be spent with friends and family—all lovely, holiday-y things that somehow arranged themselves into a military formation in my mind. How does this happen every year, I ask? (Just to be clear, love and good cheer still abounded, as evidenced by the photo below. They just had to compete for attention with tiredness and headless chicken syndrome.)

Family picture 1

And now it is next year. I’m a little surprised to find that I can believe an entire twelve-month span is over already; we put a lot of mileage on 2009, and it’s time for a trade-in. Besides traveling to eleven countries and over forty cities, I learned how to cook clams and braved black diamonds and started running (and stopped running… but have noble hopes to start again) and found a way out of an emotional quagmire and celebrated six years of marriage and moved houses and started wearing skirts again and cemented more than one close relationship and began teaching English and picked up piano playing again and attended weddings galore and had questions answered and spent delightful hours getting to know kindred spirits and finally found my taste for bitters and laughed more than cried. The year was richly layered with experience, and I feel comfortably full. It’s a good feeling.

As for 2010, I hope for much more of this…

Family Legostavaganza

…and this…

The spouses Bassett

…and this…

Sophie taking Mommy on the aqueduct 2

…with maybe just a wee bit more of this to go around:

Naptime for Ballerina Sophie

Happy New Year, everyone!

18Dec

Merry and Bright

Yesterday evening, I was dusting the living room in a flurry of last-minute prep for our annual white elephant party. Sophie was finally sleeping after an asthma attack that reallocated our afternoon to doctor’s offices and pharmacies and tight-throated cuddling, and I was dashing through my list of chores when the obscene bleat of a bus horn sounded outside the window. The dust could wait; I peeked over the balcony to see what the fuss was about.

In typical Italian fashion, someone had parked a car with courageous disregard for either logic or legality, i.e. – in the middle of the road. I watched for several minutes while the driver was procured, she failed to produce any keys, and various angry motorists contributed to the solution by honking while a neighbor pushed the car out of the street. I am sorry to say this little story has nothing whatsoever to do with this entry except that while standing on our balcony overlooking our city’s hills and valleys, I noticed something: no Christmas lights. Out of the thousands of houses visible, only one or two sported a strand of red bulbs on the balcony.

Italians celebrate Christmas jubilantly and with glad tidings of tiramisu and wine, but outdoor decorations just aren’t their thing. And while I love living in this warm-hearted country, I really miss driving around on December nights to ooh and ahh over twinkling Christmas displays. I also miss parades and candy canes and gingerbread mochas and a children’s section stocked with gorgeous holiday books.

The past two Christmases here, I felt desperate to hold onto that melted-butter sensation of holiday nostalgia. I planned red and green and cinnamon sparkles into every day, but I only found exhaustion where enchantment was supposed to be. So this year, expectations have been called back from Jupiter. I’ve been up front with myself about the traditions I miss, and I’ve whittled down my priority list to the essentials. Cookies are no longer on it, nor is our Christmas Eve brunch with friends. To tell the truth, this December looks as glitzy in my mind as a rain cloud. A hormonal one.

Yet this clammy, gray mindscape is exactly where nostalgia decided to find me. Maybe I just needed to release the pressures of baking and printing newsletters and feeling holiday cheer, damnit, or maybe the gloom of the last few years was simply another side-effect of my depression pills. Either way, this coming Christmas has been a reason to seek out magical moments in otherwise ordinary days—postponing naptime to decorate the rug with paper scraps, sitting down at the piano with Vince Guaraldi, brainstorming ways to make our friends and family feel loved… belting out carols when traffic fills the horizon (“Away in the ranger” is Natalie’s favorite; Sophie’s is “Jingle bells, jingle bells, jingle bells, jingle bells, jingle bells, jingle bells, jingle bells, jingle bells, jingle bells, jingle bells, jingle bells, jingle bells, all da waaaaaayyyyyy!”)… anticipating the daily surprise in our advent calendar… reading a story each night that leads to the miracle birth we celebrate… sprinkling nutmeg on my coffee and calling it a success.

Snowflake-strewn living room

And as it turns out, twinkling yard displays are not the slightest bit necessary for a holiday to be merry and bright.

9Dec

Rodeo

::tap tap::

Hello hello, one two three, anyone there?

I actually had to read my last blog entry to figure out where I was in life before the rodeo that is December came to town. That is acutely pathetic, I know, but at least it makes me feel good about not hosting ads on my site. Because if, say, we had to finish Christmas shopping on distant planets like IKEA and our car died and our water heater (which heats the whole house) broke and our gas went out and our car died again and our water heater broke again and it was a national holiday so no one could repair it and our utility room flooded and I caught a virus and the bathroom heater started leaking and the washing machine wouldn’t start and our car died AGAIN and we suddenly found ourselves scrambling to get all the right documents together so that we could buy a new car only to run straight up against the Italian beaurocratic system which will be on coffee break for the next three months… If, for instance, those hypothetical things were to happen, I would want the freedom to callously ignore the blogosphere until our life got itself to rehab.

There’s been so much I’ve wanted to write about though, like the visit from lovely Rachelle (and how my girls were so smitten with her that I may have been demoted to nanny), and the Paolo Nutini concert that almost had to go on without us, and the e-mails from someone Dan and I have never met who feels led by God to have us bring American television church to Italy (!!), and the thrill of Christmas shining from the girls’ eyes. There are so many of your lives I’m eager to catch up on as well.

However… All that may just have to wait until things stop breaking around here.

They have to stop sometime.

Right?

Right?

::tap tap::

25Nov

Yelrple

I’m often convinced that I am simply a giant tangle of neuroses that occasionally manages to make sense in a confusing, modern-art way. I mean, some days my mismatched tendencies work together to create a good conversation or a delicious meal or a general sense of well-being or maybe a really ingenious new expletive. Some days, I start to think I might be cut out for life as a human after all. Some days, yellow and purple really do go together. Alas, today was not one of those days.

My brain woke up especially snarled, and despite magical music* and the sexy gleam of my new computer**, I couldn’t seem to fashion the day into anything but a mess. It probably (definitely) didn’t help that a slightly feverish 2-year-old clung to me for several hours sobbing “I SAD!” But still, there was naptime — the catnip of harried mothers — and rather than roll around in my freedom outputting creativity and/or snuffling deliriously, I… uh, sat. I poked a little bit at the snarl in my head which only made it worse. I thought all sorts of greenish-gray thoughts about the nature of my brain, its unwillingness to cooperate, and the black hole of nothingness which was to be my future. I had caffeine. It didn’t help.

I’m gathering that there’s nothing to be done with a clashing muddle of neuroses other than to stop looking at it,**** so I’m hereby turning my attention to lovelier things.

Like magical music and sexy new computers,
and a barrage of snotty, slightly-feverish kisses at bedtime,
and colorwonderful paintings ready to be hung,
and glitter-plum nail polish,
and Pocket Coffee,
and the promise of naptime again tomorrow,
and a hopeful future despite the frequent mess of me.*****


* $5 Mp3 album sale at Amazon this week, if anyone’s interested!
** Which was proudly paid for with my ESL earnings!***
*** Okay, so my earnings only covered half of it, but I desperately needed a new computer, the store was having a fantastic sale, and I’m sure my husband will give me a good interest rate, right? Oh, it thrills my soul to have a working laptop again, and the 8+ hour battery charge turns my heart into fluttery Jell-O.
**** Of course I couldn’t figure this out until a quarter ’til 11 at night.
***** And footnotes, which are just plain fun.

18Nov

Cherry Tree Creed

I’ve hinted on here before about my rather extreme religious upbringing, but I’m hesitant to say much more about it. One part of me goes a little giddy at Anne Lamott’s quote, “If my family didn’t want me to write about them, they should’ve behaved better.” Yes, yes, yes! I cheer, until it comes to actually putting the ragged parts of my story into words and I inevitably whisper No. I can’t tell whom exactly my people-pleasing brain is trying to protect, but it balks when my honesty tries to reach back more than a decade. Some details are too ugly for the light of day.

Nevertheless, the way I was raised is relevant to who I am today. Painfully relevant. After all, the frequent religious apologetics classes and brainwashing camps were my introduction to doubting God’s existence. The behavior I saw in the churches and cults our family was involved with taught me about the tight-lipped smiling delusion so many people define as Christianity.  The forced hours of Old Testament reading every week took me beyond disbelief in God into the dark territory of hatred. You get the idea, at least in part.

I  spent most of my life under such a heavy religious terror that my sense of logic had to be locked up along with my emotions and honesty. The most redeeming thing that could have happened was when I gave up caring and let my doubts and anger tumble out of hiding. Depression helped, oddly enough. I already felt so low that keeping up my pretense of believing God no longer mattered. Deal with it, I told him. I may have tried punching him a time or two as well.

I see now that it had to be completely destroyed, that old belief system with its blackened stone walls and bloody gouge marks.  I had to lose enough hope to operate the wrecking ball myself. And slowly—slowly enough to be revolutionary in the we-could-die-and-face-judgment-any-minute mindset I had been taught—a new belief system is being reconstructed in my heart. It has floor-to-ceiling windows and an indoor cherry tree, and I suspect it will be some kind of spa once it is finished. There are no longer any shadowy nooks for shame, eternal damnation, party politics, or generational curses to hang out in.

A friend lent me The Shack to read a couple of months ago (the amount of time I’ve spent “forgetting” to return it makes me think I should probably just buy my own copy already). Reading it felt very much like having my rib cage pried open and all of my struggles with God exposed to the operating room lights… and then gently re-formed into such an expansive hope that my body has trouble accommodating it. Between the fresh perspective offered in that book (I can’t tell you how much I love that God reveals herself as an African-American woman) and the radical kindness of Jesus’s words, many of my questions are finally finding their perfect fit in answers — ones that don’t traumatize me or require me to suspend logic or darken my soul atmosphere. I don’t have everything figured out yet—for instance, I’m still searching for an explanation for the contradictory, violent God depicted in the Old Testament—but I am so relieved to finally have a creed that lets my heart breathe deep:

(I refer to God with female pronouns because in that way I  can comprehend her differentness from the patriarchal judge of my childhood.)

I believe that:

The Bible…
is a picture of who God is and what a relationship with her is like,
not a comprehensive encyclopedia for all the facets of existence,
and not a textbook,
and not a list of rules
(as if we could follow the rules anyway).

Free will…
means God values humans enough to give us the freedom of choice
and limits herself by not overriding those choices,
even the bad ones
(which hurt her too),
but always providing opportunities even through the bad choices
for us to clearly see her love.

God…
does not instigate tragedy, only works through and beyond it
as the life-force of the universe,
the energy, the concept of light, the goodness,
merciful enough to do away with justice
because she is love
(and not gender specific ☺).

Jesus…
is God in human form,
not a human with divine superpowers but human-human,
with emotions and needs and frustrations,
whose life flowed from his relationship with God
(who neither orchestrated his death nor abandoned him,
only worked incredible good through it).

The Holy Spirit…
is their divine presence—undiluted love—
landscaping the beautiful mess of our hearts,
the piercing loveliness we feel during a certain song
or a beautiful day or moments of profound peace,
always here and never finished.

Prayer…
is simply the ongoing dialogue
as the four of us live together,
acknowledging that the unseen is real
and that relationship is all that truly matters,
and that God cares…
which could probably be called faith.

Life on earth…
is a process that won’t culminate until all is made new,
blessedly temporary
(which I know when I agonize over the too-few hours each day),
but  a good time for the element of choice to get worked out—
a messy and necessary step for a God who respects us
and who continues to participate in our stories
outside the bounds of time and breath.

Then heaven…
will be all this as it was meant to be
without the violation of a single free will,
every heart finally connected to God’s,
finally capable of channeling her extravagant love
and enjoying complete creativity and fulfillment along with her,
seeing the beautiful face of our planet unscarred—
life on earth, redeemed.

And I…
am not a convert or a heretic
or a warrior or a one-size-fits-all
or a guest of honor on the doorman’s list
or a project to be finished
but one member of a completely unique relationship with the Divine
who values me enough not to impose rules or limitations
and promises  a never-ending process
toward fullest life,
beautiful change accomplished hand-in-hand,
and a love I am just beginning to absorb.

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