Monday, August 31, 2009

Speedbumps Wanted

Our pastor yesterday preached about temptation and not being led into it - ala last lines of The Lord's Prayer. He told a story of another pastor's dog getting sick after they accidentally left the pantry open and the dog got into a bag of chocolate. Pastor Long equated the goodies behind the pantry door to the things that tempt us. He said, "God will shut the pantry door, but he won't put a lock on it."
He pointed out we can, and should, pray for roadblocks between us and the pantry door. I've often used the same thought with the youth, but I called them "speedbumps." Our oldest, who honestly worked to not get in trouble, found himself involved in three infractions in a short timespan his freshman year of high school. I pointed out to him that he needed to see those problems as speedbumps. Speedbumps say, "Slow down. Pay Attention. Look where you're going."
I'm back to full-time writing again today. Kids are all packed off to school and vacation is over. However, before I get into working on my next book I am praying for speedbumps. Speedbumps to warn me when I'm getting off the path God wants me on. Speedbumps for when I'm tempted to not put my behind in the chair and write. Speedbumps for those temptations of writing something else because it might actually sell or it's something I can do fast.
And then my second prayer is, "God let me notice the speedbumps." Guess that means I'll have to turn down the radio, not go so fast and Pay Attention.
Here we go!

Friday, August 28, 2009

Over, I Guess.

I’m ready. Ready for the last day of vacation. It’s funny to me that on the first day of vacation I think I could stay forever. This is SO much better than home. But then this morning the humid smell of salt water and wet sand when I opened the balcony door, wasn’t refreshing. Having to walk over to the club house to check email and facebook is tiresome. Nothing on the schedule means making a schedule for each day. That was freeing at first, now it feels kinda loosey goosey. Like the vultures in Jungle Book. “Whadda you wanna do?” “I don’t know. Whadda you wanna do?”
However, something about knowing there is an end to this holiday makes it more special, more precious. Like a special thing sat up out of the reach of children’s hands, maybe even behind glass or in a protective frame. I’ve often been sorry when something beautiful got soiled or broken because I failed to take care of it. With age, I’ve learned to try and value special things before they are gone.
And this first empty-nest vacation, has been special and beautiful. I want to take time today to frame it, protect its memory, and value this week in such a way that it serves its purpose long after it’s gone. This week marks an ending and a beginning. Memories have flooded us when we’ve seen kids in the surf and hope surged as we watched couples a few years ahead of us, walking on the beach holding hands. There has been joy and even champagne toasts at our freedom and then tears when Jimmy Buffet starts singing “Little Miss Magic”.
I’ll never forget this week and, I guess that’s the point.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Happy Birthday to Me!

I am 48 years old today! How awesome to get another birthday. As you can probably already tell, I’m not one of those who laments the passage of time or the adding of another candle to the cake. It’s a privilege to get older.
Right this very minute there are people in the hospital who would give anything – anything to be told they could live to be my age. There are parents who would lay down their own life if it meant their child could be given the chance to one day blow out 48 birthday candles. Thousands are waking up this morning hoping and praying that the drugs or surgeries or treatments they endure will give them enough days to make it to their 48th birthday.
Blessed beyond all comprehension is what I am, just to be breathing. The blessings on top of that are too many to even mention. So it is a very, very happy birthday. I can honestly say – there is no one on earth happier than me.
Let’s all have cake!

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Just say "No"

It’s so much easier to tell my kids “no”, when “yes” isn’t a possibility. Being responsible and not giving them too much is being a good parent. It’s just easier if there’s no way I can give them too much. When we lived in Illinois, we lived out in the country because we didn’t expect the huge difference in cost of housing between central Florida and Chicagoland. It was a wonderful setting, a couple acres in a hundred-year-old farm house. But even that cost a lot and being so far out in the country meant you didn’t go shopping until you had to. And eating out? We just didn’t do it. Mike and I were raised in modest households so we really didn’t think much about it.
When we moved to Georgia we found another wonderful place to live – but it was a culture shock. Little House on the Prairie to Beverly Hills 90210. Kids working on family farms and doing chores versus kids having computers in their rooms and getting new cars for their birthday. Learning that eating out isn’t a treat, but a way of life.
It’s easy for me to say those wealthy folks on TV - or around the corner - shouldn’t give their kids so much, but it’s harder for me to do. If I have it, or can get it, I want my children to have it. But when is too much, literally, too much? It takes backbone and clear thinking to deny my kids.
But wait, parenting isn’t about raising kids. I’m in the business of raising adults.
Okay – got it.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Wowed yet?

I got up early today and watched the sun break through the low clouds and make the palm fronds and grass shine. Early sunbeams, hitting the dunes turned the top fringe of sea oats golden. Then a mist rolled in and veiled everything in dampness and I could smell brine, seaweed and wet sand.
I find the ocean mesmerizing, but then I find a mountain stream mesmerizing, ditto for a lake; fall leaves moving in a breeze; a pasture buzzing with insects and summer sun; black bark in stark relief against winter snow; or my own backyard. I’m just one of those folks that likes to sit and stare. It’s a gift.
Recently I joked with a friend that I have a great ability to do nothing. She, a very busy and accomplished person, said, “Yes, you do and I want to be able to do that.” I laughed, but she didn’t.
Could it really be a gift to be able to sit and enjoy my surroundings? It feels like a gift very often. Like God creates tableaus, sets scenes in place purely for my enjoyment. But what about the days I don’t appreciate the flowers lining the sidewalk or the clouds formations above or the way the rain refreshes our tired lawn? Does God lament all the trouble he went to that no one noticed? Does God look for folks that will sit and stare at his creations?
God wanting us to notice his handiwork – doesn’t that just wow you?

Monday, August 24, 2009

Forecast from the Coast . . .

Jimmy Buffet calls it “When the Coast is Clear.” The rental websites call it “Off Season.” We keep using the word, “different.”
St. Augustine, Florida this last week of August is just different. Different from the many times we’ve been here in July. Rarely on those July vacations did we have our usual assortment of three kids. Working at summer camps kept Robert and Ryan away different times. Sometimes Robert’s been able to join us for a day or two. Ryan was just too far away in Tennessee the last three summers. Lizzy has always been here, sometimes with an assortment friends. There was the week with the four girls crammed into one small room. They pushed the twin beds together and slept wherever.
Whoever was here, for whenever – there were always kids.
But not this time and not for just us. St. John’s County, where St. Augustine is located, started school today. So even the locals are filling backpacks with books and paper instead of sunscreen and beach towels. Parking spaces are abundant, open tables mean no waiting to dine, and the beach is empty of childish squeals, parents yelling, and arguments – at least where the Shostaks’ are sitting.
Who would’ve imagined? I find myself wondering what Disney World is like at this time of year? What other things and places do I think I know, but when I really examine it my knowledge is rather limited. Limited to my experiences, my perception.
Maybe that’s something to come out of all these changes in my life – a challenging of my perceptions. What other things am I only seeing one facet of?

Friday, August 21, 2009

Until further notice . . .

Okay, there's Christmas Eve when all the gifts are wrapped, tree lights and candles glowing in an otherwise dark house.
I'm partial to St. Patrick's Day because it's our anniversary and means Spring is here.
The first hot day in the pool with a Jimmy Buffet cd playing, is a favorite.
That day I hear Big & Rich sing "We are coming to your city" on ESPN each fall, which means it's time for college football.
All are favorite days for me. And then there is today - the Friday before vacation. Yep, next week there will be blogs from the ocean side.
The to-do list is winnowing down and the goal is in sight.
I just painted my fingernails bright raspberry pink - def beach color.
Mike bought new tennis shoes this week - think Chevy Chase in "Vacation". (Seriously, until I saw that movie I thought we were the only ones that got new tennis shoes for vacation, which then became our new shoes for school.)
Speaking of the movie "Vacation", Mike dug out our old VHS tape of it which we have watched for years on vacation-eve.
What a joy - one of my favorite days of the year is here and calls for one of my favorite quotes. It's from that prolific fellow Anonymous:
"Until further notice - Celebrate EVERYTHING!"

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Longing to Belong

When my three kids were pre-16, a mom with older kids told me. "When they start driving every siren you hear makes you stop and think about where they are." She was right.
This morning I heard a siren and stopped to think if any of mine were on the road. Then I realized, that siren couldn't concern them, none of them are within 80 miles of here.
This time of transition is just that - TIME. Lizzy and I have chatted on the phone this week and she knows about the time thing. Nothing feels familiar to her and she knows time is the only way to change that. I reminded her it's practice for all the times she'll not belong in the future. She understands that and is being very wise and thoughtful.
I told her it doesn't feel settled here either - yet.
To go to bed and not leave lights on. Finding the kitchen looking just like I left it. Considering only Mike and my schedules for dinner. To be planning our vacation with no thoughts of teen friendly activities. It's all a little odd and unsettling. But not really sad, because it still feels temporary.
It's about not belonging.
Lizzy doesn't belong in Marietta or at her friends' college where she visited, and she doesn't belong on her campus - yet.
We don't belong in this empty nest - yet.
It takes time and effort to belong.
I wonder if that is one of the great things about heaven. We'll belong there immediately - we'll be at home and know it. Maybe that's why we want so much to belong here on earth? Maybe we have an inner desire for heaven. Hmmm, I like that.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Do you believe in fairies?

While discussing Anne of Green Gables last night at book club, I discovered something about myself.
I apparently still believe in fairies.
One person said she'd found Anne's talk of fairies and wood nymphs interesting, but she'd never, even as a child, believed in fairies. The other ladies agreed. However, I admitted I grew up believing in all of it and then had to add. "I guess I still do."
At that moment to say to that fairies and gnomes and other such creatures don't exist was just more than I could do.
How odd is that? Even to me it seems odd. However, after much thinking about it, I can't give it up. When the moon is bright and I go inside to bed, the idea that my flower beds are empty until morning just doesn't seem right. When I see a tiny pool of water in the hollow of a violet leaf, of course, it's where a fairy washed her face. Secret, cozy hideways under the hosta leaves must be for someone to enjoy during a summer rainshower.
As I said last night, "I'd rather believe fairies exist, than deal with a world where they don't."
It's all about possibility. Try it. Pretend your yard is the playground of fairies and they come out when you go inside. See if it doesn't make sleep sweeter and the morning brighter.
Before long you'll be believing all kinds of things - like agents call, blogs get read, kids grow up, and guacomole can be low-fat!

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Circus Peanut Clouds

Between 6:45 and 7:15 this morning, clouds the color of circus peanuts floated over our house. They still make and sell circus peanuts, but I'm not sure who eats them. I've not seen anyone eating the soft, peachy-orange colored candies in many years.
My favorite crayon in the big, giant box was always the one named, 'sky blue'. It almost shimmered it was so blue. This morning the sky behind the clouds was 'sky blue'.
The sky looked like the ones painted in many of the old master's paintings you find hanging in museums. The kind of sky you see in a painting and it looks fake. And then you see the real thing and know a couple centuries ago an artist saw a morning sky like today's and thought, "I have to paint that."
What is it in some people that makes them need to re-create what they see around them? Or what they think? Or hear? I write because I love how words go together. When I read a beautiful line, I am enthralled and fascinated. I write because I love stories and what they mean to people.
Until I was in my thirties I thought everyone that liked to read, wanted to write. In my book group in Illinois we were discussing that month's book. I said, "Don't you just wish you'd written that?" To quote Christmas Story, they looked at me like I had lobsters coming out of my ears. Then I went home and asked Mike if he'd ever wanted to write and he said, "No, never even thought about it." I can truly say I was stunned.
Okay, God, I had no idea where this second blog about clouds was going.
Thank you for the reminder. I needed it.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Storm Clouds

Sitting outside watching the storm clouds roll through last night, I appreciated how much of the sky I could see. Last year a tornado hit our neighborhood and fell three very large trees in our back yard. Now, with some time, I can see what came about from that wreckage. Beautiful, dramatic tree tops we couldn't see, now fill our horizon. Two maple trees have grown about fifteen feet, since they no longer reside under a pine and oak canopy.
It's easy now to think we wanted it this way all along.
Change happens and part of growing older for me has been learning to embrace it. Yesterday, Mike and I roamed around seeking a restaurant for dinner after church. Our new church is in a part of town we aren't that familiar with. After a couple u-turns, some 'Closed on Sunday' signs, and much laughter - we finally were seated at a table in Dreamland BBQ. (Not the original one in Alabama - we weren't that lost!)
Mike said it was like we'd just moved to town and were finding our way around. We then shopped in a different mall than usual, which called for more map reading and sign watching.
When I see change on the horizon, many times it looks like the gathering clouds of a damaging storm. Sometimes it actually feels that way when I'm in it's midst and occasionally there is damage. But storms do pass and yesterday was a good day of discovery and laughter.
There are no clouds on our horizon right now, but maybe I can remember all this next time they start gathering over the mountains.

Friday, August 14, 2009

The Rubberband

Father Andrew Greeley has published over 50 novels, mostly about relationships. In one book his protagonist, a priest, is counseling a man. The man is confused because he and his soon to be ex-wife spent the night together. The priest tells the man he believes God created sexual attraction, not just to pull a man and woman together in the beginning, but to help them stay together. He explained it was like a rubber band encircling the two that snaps them together at first. Through years of marriage when things get tough the couple pull away from each other - stretching the elastic of the rubberband. But at some point the rubberband snaps them back together - whether they want to or not.
Years ago, a friend asked my advice about the distance in her marriage. I advised putting the kids to bed, watching Animal House and sharing a six-pack.
I know our early marriage was made better because we went to church. Not because of the sermons or the classes, but because for one hour every week we had to sit next to each other and not talk. Also, I'm sure willingly putting ourselves in God's presence didn't hurt.
Love, Laugh and Worship - not a bad prescription for a marriage.
Not sure why marriage is on my mind, except Mike's been gone all week and comes home tonight. I can't wait.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

The Open Road

"The beauty of an open road is that it leads you in ways you'd never expect. Stay on the pavement, but also remember to put the top down and crank up the tunes!" My friend Montyne left that comment on yesterday's blog and I just can't get it out of my mind. It captures exactly what I'm feeling.
In "Gifts from the Sea", Anne Morrow Lindbergh journals about the different stages of life. I try to read this book every summer as the decades-old wisdom is always fresh. We are reading it this summer for our book club. (Anyone is welcome to join us at my house next Tuesday, Aug. 18 at 7 pm). Ms. Lindbergh writes about coming to the stage of life where you realize some of the dreams of youth aren't going to come true. How we react with sadness and regret in our culture, instead of celebrating a greater knowledge of ourselves and the freedom attached to realigning our perceptions and priorities.
When Lizzy turned 18 I celebrated the fact that I would never have a kid in juvy. May sound strange, but if we can't look at where we've come and what we've accomplished, we can't put the present or future in proper perspective.
Montyne's comment is for those of us that have some years and experience on us. We know the open road is challenge enough and not being able to see around the curves is life. We've learned getting off the paved road is costly. We know putting the top down is worth wind-blown hair, cause perfection isn't all it's cracked up to be. And if the radio is loud enough you can't think too much.
I have such wise friends!

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Good Investments

In the movie "Confessions of a Shopaholic", the young woman tells the guy he's not a good investment. Her opinion spurs him to really look at his life. He was very successful, but was he investment worthy?
Every minute, every dollar, every worry or thought or blog or prayer is an investment in something. If it's squandered, I invested it into the black hole of wasted energy. But wasted or not - it is invested into something.
I've spent the last two days mostly alone. The kids are gone and Mike is out of town. I've been busy putting the house back into order and establishing a new order for just the two of us. But I've also had a lot of time to think.
Where do I want to invest all this time and energy I now have? The plan has been to really delve into my writing, but I don't want to just do that blindly. Intent leads to Purpose. Purpose leads to Passion. Passion leads to Wise Investments. I don't want to just move in a direction because it lays open in front of me.
I want to challenge my plans, challenge my choices and then invest all of me.
Intent - Purpose - Passion - Investment

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

I want to make God LOL

Winners of the Overachievers Award of Summer 2009 - Orange Zinnia and Pale Yellow Moss Rose.
The moss rose is in a planter sitting on the deck railing. It mounds higher than the geraniums it shares the pot with and then hangs down past the railing. The zinnia is in a big planter in the corner and it's hard to see the red and white geraniums behind it.
I didn't plant either the moss rose or the zinnia. In the gardening world they are called, "volunteers". Both plants come from seeds left by last year's flowers. When I readied the planters with new dirt this spring, these volunteers were no where in sight. I carefully placed the already good-sized plants I'd bought where I wanted them. Then at some point the unplanned flowers showed up. I recognized the leaves so I didn't pull them up - a little spontenity is good. However, now they boutifully show up the plants that were supposed to be there.
Wonder why?
To live inside other's expectations and plans may lead to a perfectly acceptable and happy life. My geraniums and ivy I planted are color coordinated, the correct height, in the right about of sunshine and meet all my expectations. Is that what I want from life? To match my surroundings? Fit the mold? Meet other's expectations?
Is it pure joy de vivre - joy of living - that gives my unplanned plants their boost? I want that. I want to surprise the world.
I want to make God laugh out loud.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Anarchy banished - again!

Sitting on the deck drinking coffee this morning, I watched the school buses making their rounds.
Order is being imposed on the realm.
Every summer since my kids started school followed the same pattern. Around the beginning of May, we'd all get antsy. Homework, projects, packing lunches, signing notes - their end was in sight. We'd shove off the shackles of the school year and revel in the freedom and warm days. June and July would fly by on the wings of liberty.
Then that last week of July, I'd start to itch. Dishes in the kitchen sink all day, late nights, supper on the fly, shaggy hair, peeling sunburns, and sleep-deprived kids - all pushed freedom over the edge of the cliff called, "chaos."
Even this year, with the youngest headed off to a dorm, the itching started a week ago. Robert left this morning, after his first extended time home in five years. My cabinents are now empty of his organic food and power drink stuff. I can clean the stubble off the downstairs sink and his running shoes are no longer posted by my desk.
Lizzy is waking up in her dorm room and my hairbrush can come out of hiding. It, along with my mascara and tweezers, will stay where I leave them instead of finding themselves in Lizzy's purse at strange houses.
Okay - maybe I'll get lonely or sad at some point down the road, but right now I feel all-powerful. Because once again in my world, order has triumphed chaos!

Friday, August 7, 2009

Delivery Room to Here?

Decided I wanted to wait and blog after this mornings events, so I just got home and sat down at my laptop. Robert's summer internship for his master's program was in the governor's office. He moved home since the daily commute would be too far from his apartment in Athens. Every morning, he packed his lunch and left at 6:30. His car's air conditioner is broken, so he returned each evening sweaty from sitting in traffic in on I-75.
He very much enjoyed his job and the people surrounding him were wonderful in how they guided him, taught him and encouraged him.
I got to meet some of those folks today. There was a reception for the thirteen interns at the governor's mansion. Robert's girlfriend, Carrie, and I were invited. Mike had to pass up his invite, as he's in Milwaukee today.
Governor Purdue talked to each person there. He then spoke on the importance of the internship program and about the interns' futures. Afterwards, we got to take as many pictures as we wanted.
Tomorrow we're driving to Tennessee for the Mountain TOP closing, where Ryan has been a director all summer. Then on Sunday, we move Lizzy into her dorm.
At the reception today, the closing tomorrow and moving-in on Sunday there will be people who love helping young people become adults. I've often thought of people being called to work with pre-schoolers or high schoolers, but not college-age as much. At a college orientation one administrator put it this way, "I'm called to work with young people on the verge of becoming adults, to help then take those first solo steps."
Today I'm very grateful for those people God puts into my young adults' lives who push and pull and encourage and discipline. And basically finish the job Mike and I began two decades ago, in a faraway, hospital delivery room.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Toilet Paper Wars

I firmly believe toilet paper rolls should be placed on the holder so the paper is lying on the front of the roll for ease and convenience.
Mike, just as firmly, believes it should hang down at the back for ease and convenience.
Shocking to realize we made it to our 25th anniversary, isn't it?
At first, we explained to each other the infalliable attributes of our firmly held, supported-by-our-families, long-practiced, only-reasonable-possibility, belief on the correct execution of this household necessity.
Then (unbelievably without government aid) we came to a compromise. Whoever put the new roll on got to decide how it went and it stayed that way until it was empty.
I had a woman friend tell me once this sharing of being right, was wrong. "I just change it to be the way it's supposed to be."
However, for twenty-five years this compromise has reminded each of us -several times a day - that just because I think something is right, doesn't mean it is the ONLY way for it to be right.
It's a simplistic act of will to bend to another's wish. However, the fact that after two and half decades we each still cling to our preference, says we know and understand we are different and will likely have differences all our lives.
Plus - in our desire to have things our own way, the toilet paper holder is rarely left empty!

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Dicombobulated, again

I got all discombobulated yesterday in the grocery store.
Lizzy's favorite food is bacon. When I got to the bacon section I realized I won't be making it as much (hear that groaning? Mike must've just read this.) Then there were the lunchables she always took to the pool when lifeguarding. By time I got to the cream cheese, my mind was spinning. She likes to burn a bagel, put about a half inch of cream cheese on it and then a layer of bacon, put the top on and eat it like a sandwich. We go through a lot of cream cheese.
Wait - not anymore.
That's what got me all discombobulated. Life is getting ready to change and I can't really picture this change yet. At all. A big part of who I've been is the one that knows what each kid likes on their sandwiches. Who eats peanut butter with nuts and who eats smooth. Cereal prejudices was an upper level class all on it's own.
Cooking and shopping for two, sounds so much simpler - but I can't imagine it. We're in that inbetween time. Things are changing, last times are happening, newness hits each of us around every corner. The check list of things to get done is getting shorter every day and I can't think.
And I don't want to feel.
I don't want to look at this too closely and yet it's so compelling. Such an adventure - for all of us. And I know us - it will end up a good adventure.
But who could've imagined it would come so soon.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Full Moon

The moon called me outside last night. Full and bright hanging in a dark sky, it silently washed our yard with moonlight. Except, moonlight is really just reflected sunlight, right?
That is so hard to believe when everything is covered in the blue-white glow. Sunshine pulsating across the universe so strongly that the moon, a dusty, dull planet shines bright enough to illuminate the earth.
What amazes me is this: If the moon is only reflecting the sunlight that hits it, then the night sky is filled with sunlight. However, without something to reflect it, it just pours into outer space. So all that darkness is full of sunshine - brilliant, powerful sunshine. Light never seen because there's nothing for it to reflect on.
Can that be how God is? He's everywhere and yet we don't always see him because there's nothing near us reflecting him?
Or, like heavy clouds can hide the moon, do we put barriers between God's reflection in our world? Dimming the light for everyone?
Just wondering.

Monday, August 3, 2009

So Sorry

Daddy sent me an email this morning to say that while his houses growing up didn't have a lot of things (like electricity), they always had a floor. Unlike what I wrote in a blog last week. Oops. Sorry, Daddy.
A lot of milestones mark our growing up, but many of them are dictated by the calendar or the school system and really don't mark a specific jump in maturity. Those times when the light bulb goes on and we realize we just grew some are usually not planned for - and there is rarely cake to celebrate the moment.
Like the phone call I had to make when I was in my twenties to say, "I was wrong and I'm sorry" to a friend at church. She didn't dismiss me with a "that's okay." She accepted my apology, explained her position once more and then we moved on. We moved on to a better relationship and I grew up a little more.
Now most of you probably don't share this problem of mine - I like to be right. And I don't mind saying I'm sorry as long as everyone understands - I was still right. Mama told me one time that the words "I'm sorry" rolled off my tongue so easy because I rarely meant it. Ouch.
That jump in growing up, when I called my friend, came because I accepted that I was completely in the wrong. Believe me, I tried to find a way for me to be right. But when I willingly took on the mantle of being wrong and asking forgiveness, I laid to the side some immaturity and childishness.
"Love means never having to say you're sorry", a tag line for the movie "Love Story" from 1970 became a popular saying. A friends' older sister had a poster with it hanging in her room when I was in jr. high. After I spent the night there once, my dad picked me up and he saw the poster. In the car on the way home he said, "That poster is wrong. Love means saying you're sorry."
And I guess growing up means saying it - and meaning it.