Monday, November 2, 2015

In praise of ordinary days

We have had a flurry of activity lately.

Good friends came for a visit and filled our weekend with great food and conversation. The weekend before we went to Miami, traveling with three teenage girls to an anime convention.

And now it is Monday, and I'm taking a deep breath, because we have one more busy weekend coming up.

But - today - nothing is on my calendar. Just the regular, ordinary, everyday stuff.

And, I'm thankful - today - for ordinary days.

This the kind of day where the biggest "to-do" is filling up my favorite Votes for Women mug with multiple cups of coffee and booting up my laptop. I woke at my regular time of 5:15 a.m. (not quite as painful thanks to daylight savings time) and walked with our dog and my daughter to her bus stop.

I've spent the morning working, writing and returning emails that have sat for too long in my inbox. Later, I plan to wipe off the shelves of the refrigerator and run a sweeper over the rug. Maybe I'll empty the trash can in our bathroom, and pay some bills.

If I get crazy adventurous, I'll make sloppy joes for dinner.

Don't get me wrong. I'm the sort of person who loves change. I look forward to special events. I adore holidays and traveling and long visits with dear friends. But sometimes, I just need ordinary.

So today, I'm celebrating it.

Thank you, God, for this ordinary day.

Help me to never take it for granted, but to know that each day, each ordinary moment, is precious.

There is time to wiggle my toes. Time to sigh deeply and take five extra minutes in the shower.Time to scramble an egg and stare out the window.

Thank you for the wind in the trees and for the sun shining so brightly. Thank you for my daily work, the tasks set before me that return month after month. Thank you for today.

For this ordinary, plain-old, regular, non-spectacular day... I am deeply thankful.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Army Wives, Wax Donuts, and the Friends Who Know Me Best

Lately I've been binge-watching the show Army Wives on Netflix.

I never saw it the first-time around. And now I can watch the complete series as I sit on my orange couch in a quiet living room, emptying a bag of Mint Milano cookies. Dangerous stuff.

When I deep dive into a new book or series, I feel like I'm entering a new, unknown world. And, right now, I'm enjoying being an Army wife.

I am struck by what it means to live and serve in the Army. I stand in awe of the commitment made by these individuals - not only what it means to commit to serve and fight, but what it means to be the wives and families of those in service. One of my former students, now an army wife, confirms that much of what the show portrays is true.

I don't know how I would live with such a sense of impermanence. Army wives must be ready to pack up and move every few years. That means a new house, new friends, new schools for their kids. They cannot invest too much in their own careers, because a move would require that they pick up and go. For me, that would be a huge struggle.

They also exist under the constant threat of deployment. Sometimes they get a few weeks of warning, other times not. I watched one episode where a single mom was being deployed and panicked when she realized she had no one to care for her daughter. How little I realized about military life!

The show revolves around a group of friends - four wives and one husband. Pamela (the fiery, redhead police officer), Roxie (the bar owner with short skirts and a sassy attitude), Denise (the elegant, motorcycle-riding paramedic), and Claudia Joy (the commander's wife who is also beginning a law degree).

Their friendship runs deep. And, in each episode, those bonds are tested and strengthened. They walk through depression, divorce, sickness, death. They cry. They laugh. They call each other. They take walks. They bond over coffee and glasses of wine. And sometimes they come around one another with no words at all.

They are moms, wives, and friends. And the more I watch - the more I thought about how much I value the circle of female friends in my own life. I have my writer and artist friends who challenge me to be see beauty, be creative and take risks. I have friends from childhood, people who have known me through summer camp romances and bad haircuts.

I have work friendships, women who raised eyebrows with me during those way-too-long, way-too-boring meetings and understood my consuming need for 3 o'clock M&Ms (no peanuts, please). And, in my new town, I'm building friendships . . . slowly. I met these friends through Instagram, church, and even my daughter's art camp where she served as a volunteer.

Army Wives reminded me to never take these friendships for granted. While I don't have a huge number, the ones I have I hold dear.

My friends make me laugh. They enjoy my adoration for Gilmore Girls and a strong cup of coffee. They understand my obsession with vintage and my odd addiction to chocolate waxy donuts. They know I am clutzy and that I can appreciate "real" literature as well as a Nicholas Sparks movie.

Friends understand all the varied parts of me. I am so thankful for the company of women.

Monday, August 31, 2015

Raising Girls to be Brave Women

When I was little, I wanted to be exactly like Nancy Drew. If I were brave like her, I would walk fearlessly into any unknown situation and not lose my cool. I would be smart and clever. I would drive my own car, face off bad guys, and solve mysteries. I'd wear a plaid skirt and penny loafers, and I'd be brave.

In reality, I was anything but brave. I was afraid of going to gymn class at 1 p.m. I was afraid of being kicked by a soccer ball or climbing the rope. I was terribly shy and didn't like talking to anyone. I was afraid of getting hurt. I was afraid of the dark, of boys, of shadows, of pretty much everything.

Sometimes I still feel like that same scared girl on the inside - a girl who worries and frets - a girl who is fearful and timid. I have to be reminded to be a brave women and to inspire a brave daughter.

What does it mean to be brave?

Fierce. Strong. Independent.

I want to be like that. I want my daughter to be like that.

In the book (and movie) The Help, the African American maid, Abileen, tells the little girl in her charge the same thing over and over. She whispers,"You is kind. You is smart. You is important." How sweet those words are to hear at any age, words that speak truth and challenge to our hearts.

But I would add one more: "You are brave." Turn to the younger woman in your charge and tell her these three thing...these three, very important, courage-inspiring, life-changing things. Tell her:

1) God has a plan for your life. It is not always easy to see the future. We tend to worry about what is around the corner. I know that I do. My mind is filled with "what ifs"... What if I'm too shy? What if I can't find my way? What if I fail? But we can be brave - despite our fears - if we know that God holds our future. Psalm 32: 7,8 has long been a favorite Bible passage of mine. It tells me that God has His eye upon me. It tells me that He is leading the way. It assures me that my braveness is enabled because He holds the results.

2) You have incredible role models. I had Nancy Drew. But I had other real-life role models too. I had grown up hearing about Florence Nightingale, Jane Addams, and Amelia Earhart. I had journeyed by covered wagon with Laura Ingalls and read braille with Helen Keller. I learned by hearing stories of other girls, other women, who had faced bigger obstacles than mine and survived. One of the best things about writing a book about brave women is that I've received notes from young girls - as young as 8 years old. They not only enjoyed the stories of these eight historical women, they were inspired by their lives. We can be brave just as they were brave.

3) You don't have to do it alone. Girls can be competitive. We give each other the once over and decide who is prettier. But life isn't a Miss America contest. I recently saw a video where 1,000 women dressed like Rosie the Riveter to celebrate the anniversary of the end of World War II. But they were also celebrating the bravery and camaraderie of women. These women, left behind during the war, rolled up their sleeves, tied up their hair and worked. They made ships. They were brave - together! And the women who celebrated came together too - young and old - to celebrate the courage of women. We are in this thing together. We can help one another. Together, we can be brave.

Are you brave? I think you are. Look into the mirror. Tell these three things to yourself. Then tell them to your daughter, your granddaughter, your nieces, your younger coworker, the child in your Sunday School class. We must speak into the lives of others.

Remember, God has an incredible plan for your life. He can make you brave. And you have incredible role models - women of faith who will inspire and motivate you. You aren't in this alone.

We are women together. Brave, smart, beautiful, kind, and important.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

My Aching Back and Why White-Out Doesn't Always Work

On a recent trip to our local home improvement store, I was helping my husband pick out boards. We are remodeling our 1960s-era kitchen, and he is cutting and staining cabinet doors. So, I was being a little picky.

The first board had strap marks across it. The second board had a big knot hole in the center. And the third board wrenched my back.

Ouch. I could feel my muscle twinge when I twisted just the wrong way. The board wasn't that heavy - just awkward. But I felt it. I knew I was in trouble.

Two days later, I'm taking a prescription tablet of cyclobenzaprine and Advil, and wishing I wasn't so old. I'm also wishing I could take back that one moment. Why didn't I settle for board #2?

Then yesterday, we went to pick up a piece of vintage treasure from a seller on Craigslist. $25. A bargain. I'm still a bit leary of meeting unknown sellers - and we were meeting at the storage facility which was fairly deserted. Just in case, I took my wallet out of my purse and hid it under my car seat. But it turned out just fine. The deal was made. $25 was a steal. And then we backed up our car to leave. I heard a whoosh of air.

We had backed up over a bolt. My husband was not happy. Luckily, the car made it safely home, and today Milt was able to repair the hole. But I wished that I could reverse time for just a moment. I wanted to rewind and have a do-over.

Have you ever felt like that?

What if you hadn't done that one last thing that wrecked havoc with your life?

When I was in college, they had these fancy new typewriters that let you back up and "automatically" erase with built in white-out tape. So cool. They let me undo my typing errors so almost no one could see.

But life isn't like that, is it? We have no back up ability. We can't rewind. We can't white it out. What's done is done. No crying over spilled milk, so they say.

So as I sit here - my back aching and looking at my Kia Soul with the bolt hole now patched, I realize that life goes on. We are a bit beat up, a little scarred, but we're still chugging. Moving forward - sometimes with a limp.

The only do-over that really works is God. How thankful I am that I believe in a God who forgives, who wipes my slate clean, who lets me heal and be purified even when I mess up -big time. Scripture tells us that even though are sins are scarlet, we will be made white as snow (Isaiah 1:18) And having tried to get stains out of carpet, I love that metaphor.

We will be made clean. Good as new. Better than a rewind because it can't be undone or merely covered up. Now, in this life, we will have slips and falls and missteps. Then, with God's help, we will  be purified, complete, perfected, healed.

I like the sound of that. Especially today.

Friday, July 31, 2015

What is it really like to live in Florida?

Moving from the Midwest to Florida, I had certain expectations. Some good. Others bad.

I looked forward to throwing away my down coat and my plastic ice scraper. I worried about humidity and hurricanes. Well, I've been here for six months now - January through July - and I have a much better idea of what there is to love (and maybe not love as much) about my new home.

What you give up...

1) Grass Lawns. The grass in our Florida front yard is crab grass. They have all sorts of fancy names for it here, but it is definitely the stuff we tried hard to kill in the Midwest. This is weedy, finnicky grass. The ground is sandy. Even after what seemed like a drenching downpour, the sand appears untouched and parched. Yes, we do have green lawns - but if you look closely you can see the difference.

2) Seasons. Perhaps my biggest shock was to give up any semblance of seasons. I remember stopping at a restaurant in December and hearing a Christmas carol. Why are they playing Christmas music now? I wondered. Then I was Christmastime. Every month feels like June or July. There are seasons but they they are much more subtle. Leaves fall off trees, flowers bloom, but they seem completely random. My internal clock is messed up. I miss family birthdays and holidays surprise me. What month is this anyway?

3) Boots and Wool Jackets. Being from Chicago, I have a huge assortment of winter clothing. I love my tall leather boots and my fuzzy sweaters. I adore scarves and hats. But now, I have very limited time to wear them. They are still in my closet, but shoved to the very back. I sorted through a giant tub of socks and tights and threw most of them out. I had ten pairs of black knee highs. I had a fleece lined pair of tights - fleece lined!!! That's how cold it got during my Chicago commute. Now I wear shorts. Shorts. All the time.

4) Pizza. They will tell you they have pizza here. There are neon "pizza" signs that beckon you as you drive up and down the coast. But they lie. This is not pizza. This is soggy, floppy cheese pie. My husband is in serious Chicago pizza withdrawal - not for the deep dish kind (which I do love on occasion), but for the crisp, thin crust, cut in squares with Italian sausage type. Sigh.

What you gain . . .

1) Sunshine. I always experienced a bit of seasonal depression from January until March. It was not just the freezing snow and ice, but the gloom. I'd look at the grey cloudy sky and long for just one peek of sun. Now I've gotten my wish. Every day. It is sunny in Florida. Really sunny. It is also lush and green. For some reason I thought too much sunshine would result in parched lawns. In Chicago, my August lawn looked dead and brown. Here, everything grows like wild - all the time. It is like we live in a tropical forest. We chop things down, and they resurrect.

2) Beach. Perhaps I should say nature, but the beach is one of the main reasons that this is a very outdoorsy place. People are active. They kayak. They bike. They fish. They surf. They walk up and down the beach. They run. They have racks and racks of sporty clothing in the stores. Maybe it's the overabundance of serotonin from so much sunlight, or maybe it's the natural beauty that surrounds. I can walk to the Halifax River (one block to the west of my house) or the Atlantic Ocean (one and half blocks to the East). There is a huge state park just one mile north. Nature beckons me. The beach calms me. If I'm ever feeling stressed, just sitting on the great expanse of the beach and staring at the ocean waves calms me. I did not have this in my Chicago suburb.

3) Calm. I am used to a frantic pace of life. I had 49 years in Chicago where we "go, go, go." I commuted to my job - one and a half hours each way - by car, then train, then walking. And suddenly I reached Florida, and life slowed to a halt. It is quieter here. People don't hurry. That has its upside and its downside. Contractors are not in a hurry to get their jobs done. But people also stop to talk and smile and relax. I am gradually adjusting to this pace of life. It is small towny and quaint. There are two traffic lights and one train crossing. There is not much crime. Maybe everyone is sedated by the lapping sound of waves.

There are pros and cons of living in Florida. I was warned about cost of living and unemployment. I was warned about living in a land of retirees. But overall my worst fears were misplaced. This is a town like any other. It has its downside. It has its perks.

I'm quite happy with our move - six months in. And I'm all in. I've thrown out my gigantic, floor-length, grey, poofy down coat. I've purchased six pairs of shorts and am now sporting a persistent tan.

Do I miss Chicago? Yes. I always will.

But I am enjoying our new coastal Florida home.