Monday, July 6, 2015

Declaring Independence

Today, we're traveling, dropping my daughter off for a week in Washington, DC -- a week without us. She's ready, and until last weekend, I thought I was, too. But the truth is, in the midst of a summer filled with college visits that announce a more permanent state of independence with all the subtlety of a brass band, I'm much less ready for this than I expected to be. My head is still on board, but my heart has left the station.

So, instead of a mushy blog about how kids grow up too fast (because nobody needs that), I decided to re-post a blog from June 2011. The good news? I'm reclaiming my social life. The bad news? I'm not as ready as I thought I'd be.
I spent last evening sitting on a bench in the breezeway at church, wondering just when I abdicated my social life completely. My daughter and her friends were socializing at the carnival, too old for me to tag along, too young for me to leave the premises altogether - at least as far as I was concerned. Since it was the third night this week that we patronized the carnival, the attractions had lost their luster, and I was content to sit on my bench near the fish pond, enjoying the ambient carnival sounds and cool evening weather. 

But the carnival is just the tip of the iceberg. As my daughter has gotten older and more involved in school and sports activities, her schedule has become the centerpiece of our family life. Her social life has supplanted ours, and even the date nights that we planned when she was small have fallen by the wayside. Now, rather than being planned events, date nights happen when she is at a friend's house, a party or a sleepover.

Much of our time is spent doing things as a family, and as she continues to grow up - much too fast, I might add - I have come to prefer this arrangement. As her middle school years dwindle, I am profoundly aware of the fact that before I know it, there will be plenty of date nights and not nearly enough family time.

So, I will treasure even the summer evenings spent on a bench on a cool evening, as she checks in and we add and subtract kids, sending this one home with their parents, chauffeuring that one home with us. I will joke with other parents about how she stops by when she needs more money, or needs me to hold onto something for her, secretly relishing those fleeting moments because only she and I know that those stops are the teenage umbilical cord, the equivalent of the toddler running around the corner, then running back to make sure Mom's still there.

Mom's still here. And she's not going anywhere.

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Saturday Special: 10 Tips + 5 Minutes = Declaration of Independence from Clutter
Last spring, right around the time the semester ended, I made a trip to the library to drop off donations. Time to read was still around the corner, blockaded by papers and finals that needed to be graded, but sending an author to the library and expecting her to leave empty-handed is like sending a two-year-old to a candy store with the same expectation.

So, I went in search of books that might make worthy contributions to next semester's classes, and emerged with Gretchen Rubin's The Happiness Project. Not only am I using it next semester, but I also enjoyed every chapter.

Today's Organization Extra, "10 Tips to Beat Clutter in Less Than 5 Minutes," is from Gretchen's Happiness Project Blog, one of many goals she set and achieved in conjunction with the writing of the book.

And who knows? These tips might actually yield that rare commodity: time to read a good book.

Friday, July 3, 2015

Friday Feature: Summer Homework

The only drawback to listening to NPR on short commutes is that I hear great stuff, then I can't find it again. Sometimes, I jot myself a note when I arrive at my destination; other times, I think I remember enough to access the information later, but sadly, I'm wrong.

I heard one of those shows a few weeks ago. A college admissions counselor at a high school was talking about the importance of summer vacation for high school students -- sleeping in, chilling out, taking time to recharge.

Now that's my kind of summer vacation.

So, when I read about a similar summer homework assignment from an Italian teacher -- this time, in The Huffington Post, I cut and pasted the link immediately. Fool me once and all.

And tomorrow, I'm putting an NPR notebook in my car.

Happy 4th of July!

Photo: Sgarton via Morguefile

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Small Success Thursday: Patience, Practice and Lists

Photo: lisasolonynko via Morguefile
For the past couple of hours, I've been growing increasingly frustrated as I ran the necessary obstacle course standing between me and writing time. It didn't help that I completely forgot that tomorrow is a holiday, which meant moving banking and other tasks on my list from "to-do" to "to-do today." I kept reminding myself to practice patience, all the while realizing there's a reason they call it practicing, as I ended up behind a succession of people in less of a hurry than I was in.

Lately, that seems to be the case much of the time. I don't seem to be able to achieve a middle ground where pace is concerned. I'm either so laid back that I drive everybody crazy or in such a ridiculous hurry that I drive myself crazy -- along with everybody else.

Once I'd checked off the necessary items and made it to Starbucks (behind yet another slow driver) with my laptop, I saw for myself why the pace I desired wasn't the pace to be admired. As I sit here typing this post, I am all alone at my favorite Starbucks. It's just me, my drink and two of my favorite baristas. Wow.

And then it clicked -- the best reason of all to practice patience: because we are where we are supposed to be at any given time. I know not everyone thinks that's the case, but it's been true in my life so often (as recently as yesterday when I ran the same rat race), that I've come to believe it's true. God knows where I'm supposed to be, and when my ideas don't match up with his, all I do is frustrate myself trying to achieve unrealistic goals.

Then came the next realization. Today is Small Success Thursday on What a fantastic, marvelous, wonderful way to realize I'm not alone.

So here are those small successes. I made it through my list of errands. I ordered my daughter's senior portraits. I finally got that blog (and this one) posted, as well as answering a "what comes next?" question that's been plaguing me since yesterday, and, as a bonus, came up with a few new ideas (that weren't on the list) as well.

And along the way, I practiced patience, albeit reluctantly. But that qualifies as a success, because, after all, practice makes perfect.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Rainy Days and Balance

Photo: Shlomit Wolf via
At first, I was disappointed that it was supposed to rain last Saturday. But as the day drew closer and I looked around my house, I realized that there was plenty to do here, and perhaps a rainy day was just what I needed.

To lead off the day, I slept in. When I came downstairs, I found my daughter under the canopy on the patio with her book -- the embodiment of the luxury a rainy Saturday brings. Unencumbered by the pleasant distractions inherent in a beautiful summer day, she was taking the time to enjoy the simple act of reading for the sheer pleasure of it, and her goal was to finish the book by the end of the day.

Some days just call out for good books and household projects -- the kind you keep meaning to get to, but never make time for. Rainy days make being indoors an attractive option, and suddenly, those projects look less daunting too.

Saturday ended up being a little writing, a good bit of laundry, a little church, some take-out stromboli and a DVD from Netflix. My daughter finished her book, my husband puttered around and I finished one of my projects. It was a quiet, productive day, but also a relaxing one.

Rainy days encourage us to roll over and go back to sleep; sunny days make getting out of bed less difficult. Sunny days beckon us outdoors; rainy days offer contentment indoors. The threat of a rainy day inspires gloom; the promise of a sunny day encourages plans.

At least that's how it is for me -- my husband and my daughter love the rain. I hide from it; they go out walking in it.

And so we have balance. Sunny day after sunny day sounds good in theory, but without a little rain here and there, we take the sun for granted. Then, when it doesn't show up, sending clouds in its place, we get a little grumpy.

Photo: Josh Felise via
As I write this, the sun is shining outside my window, and I'm grateful for that. We're headed on another college visit, and the last visit in the rain was unpleasant and unsatisfying, so I think today's campus stands a better chance simply because of the weather. While a rainy day would make it easier for me to stay inside and power forward on my book revisions, today's weather is a perfect match for today's plans.

Some days are like that. Other days, we have to adjust the plans to the weather.

And so we have balance.

Monday, June 29, 2015

If Love Wins, God Wins

I'm a cradle Catholic -- sort of. I was born to Catholic parents, baptized in the Catholic Church and received the sacraments of Reconciliation, Eucharist and Confirmation. I went to public school, but we went to church, too. When my sister was very sick as a child, my grandmother went to Mass every single day to pray for her. I didn't understand the enormity of her faith then, let alone the enormity of the Father to whom she was praying. I just knew Nana went to church early in the morning.

Then, I went to college. There, I learned to question things. A lot of things. And I became a cafeteria Catholic. After graduate school, based on an article in the newspaper that essentially said you're either Catholic or you're not  there's no such thing as "I'm Catholic, but...."  I decided maybe I wasn't Catholic after all. I believed in birth control and a woman's right to choose. I still loved the liturgy, but believed profoundly that the Church and I parted ways when it came to contemporary issues.

And then I lost 15 years. Fifteen years of church family and music and liturgy and foundation. Fifteen years of blaming a whole church for a misguided newspaper article. Fifteen years lost because of one person's opinion.

It was a strange thing that brought me back to Mass. Shortly after my daughter was born, my mother was telling me about a visit she'd made to a boutique near her home. On that particular day, lots of little girls were there, shopping for First Holy Communion dresses, parading around like little princesses in white.

And it hit me. My daughter wouldn't do that. She wouldn't grow up with the liturgy and traditions that had been so much a part of my childhood -- so much a part of the person I became.

The following Saturday night, I went to Mass for the first time in fifteen years. A few months later, I found the church we attend now  an imperfect place filled with imperfect people, many of whom struggle with the same things I do.

But my church is losing people  good people. Some who were born into the church, and others who chose it, only to feel rejected by it later on.

And when well-meaning, church-going people preach others into corners, they perpetuate this loss. God didn't send His son for just a chosen few. As I understand it, nothing would make God happier than to have heaven overflow with people He chose who chose Him back.

But so many of us insist on being obstacles to that, throwing up walls held together with doctrine and aphorisms and thinly veiled judgment. And then we shake our heads because people refuse to climb those walls. Man-made walls. I wonder if God is shaking his head, too, but for a different reason.

The thing is, God wants to be found. But people keep getting in the way. No matter how well-meaning. No matter how well-read or seemingly well-informed on what it is God wants, these people are human beings. Flawed. Imperfect. Wrong.

And me, with my big mouth and my Jersey attitude? As I see it, my job is to show people the best that God has to offer so that they don't lose any more days. To love and accept and keep my judgments to myself so they can tune out the noise and find out from God what it is He wants for them. Some days are successes, others are not, but all have three things in common.

Faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Saturday Special: Cheap, Easy Ways to Store Stuff

When it comes to wall decor, I am the chief hammer-wielder in our house. It's not because I'm good at it (I'm not); it's because my husband abhors even the idea of putting holes in our walls.

His feelings on the subject of holes would be one of the reasons I love this post from Pinterest on simple storage ideas. Not only are they inexpensive and easy, but many employ small (also inexpensive) plastic clips rather than nails. 

Simple solutions. No holes necessary :-)