My Slow Fall Into Love With Summer

Falling in love with Summer caught me so unaware that now my heart aches with need. A need to be connected – a need so great that I find myself nearly willing to lose myself. I know this makes no sense.

How is it that me, a middle aged woman not known for spontaneity or reckless behavior now feels like making a public declaration of my love for Summer? I think because when I woke up today, my arm snaking out from under my covers to find the snooze button, my first thought was that it is Friday. And this Friday is the last Friday of this Summer. More to the point, it is the last Friday of Summer as I have come to know and love.

This is the last Friday of Summer.

When I was a kid I hated summer. Summer was the three interminable months between when school got out and when I could escape my childhood and go back to school. Summer was the enemy that meant no fun, no full-belly-laughter, no being a silly kid. Instead, summer was getting up and working all day in the sun-bleached heat of Eastern Washington and trying to hide from the angry voices that demanded absolute obedience.

Things slowly changed when I left the farm. Later, I left home and summer became something more than a season to survive. It became tolerable, even ignorable. Summer happened, but it was just a waiting period until my favorite season started. Hatred had somehow transformed into indifference.

However, yesterday I realized that I somehow fell in love with Summer.

It’s my husband’s fault. He mastered the slipping out of bed as his alarm goes off, closing doors before turning on lights or the shower, dressing in the dark. He’s mastered the gentle kiss on my forehead and quiet goodbye as I hold a cup of coffee, not yet quite awake. He’s embraced sleeplessness as we cajole him into staying up late to watch movies and play games, or moonlit philosophical soaks in the hot tub. He’s been our family’s primary breadwinner so I could spend the summers fully immersed in mothering our three children. Falling in love with summer is an extension of having been given permission to love other people so fully and completely that all I want to do is do nothing with them.

I suppose my slow love affair with summer is like an appreciation of summer’s bountiful impermanence. While experiencing it, summer feels as full a garden plot with one too many zucchini plants. But that feeling is fleeting. One day there is too much and then next there is only withered and empty vines. 

This summer has been filled to bursting with time together. Next summer, Biggest will be marking the days before leaving for college. His weeks between graduation and college will be more about his friends and peers than Netflix and popcorn in the family room with his siblings and Mister Soandso and I crowded on the couch.

Thank you Summer for all you’ve given me. All these years of moments with Biggest (and Middlest and Littlest) and the memories of both the days filled with more “nothing specials” than “big events” but that add up to such a powerful thing that I don’t know what I’m going to do when Summer makes way for Autumn. Because when that happens, there will be no way to ignore that the next time I meet Summer, everything will be different. It may have taken me a long time to fall in love with Summer, but now that I have, all I want is Summer…days and days and days of Summer. But that won’t happen.

Because today is the last Friday of Summer.

 

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Friendship, Words, and Reading

One of the best parts of living on the outskirts of the writing community is that I have been able to meet many writers over the years. Even better is the fact that I am lucky to call a handful or so “friend” and mean it in more than the “I interact with them on social media” fashion. One of those wonderful writer friends is Kerry Schafer. Kerry recently shared with me a digital copy of her latest novel and I thought that my first blog post in nearly a year would be a good place to talk about friendship, Kerry, and her books.

518edz1m7el-_sx322_bo1204203200_I have been reading Kerry’s words since her first book, Between, came out in 2013. I devoured Between while camping that summer. While I’m not typically a huge fan of the fantasy genre, Kerry is a good storyteller so she hooked me – to the extent that all three of the Between series sits on my bookshelf.

That storytelling skill continues with her latest series, The Shadow Valley Manor with Dead Before Dying and now World Tree Girl

Technically, World Tree Girl is a stand alone novel, but I feel like some of the story is helped by having already met Maureen Keslyn and her fellow “ghost hunters”. I suppose that’s a bit misleading – you really don’t need to read the first book, but you really should. By the way, they aren’t ghost hunters per se- but like the blurb on the front cover says, there is a very X-File vibe to the work that Maureen does…rather than risk spoilers, let me just describe her as a ghost-like hunter and you can come up with your own description after you’ve read it.

I think my favorite thing that Kerry has done in this book is to create a great protagonist who is as atypical as her job. She’s not a gorgeous, nubile 20-something-year-old. Instead, she’s a bit broken, a bit rough around the edges, a bit like how you’d expect a woman to be with a resume strong enough to hunt “ghosts”.

I think that is why I adore Kerry and her writing. She writes fierce women who are like women you know. Women who have stayed up all night – perhaps watching over a sick child, or waiting for a teenager to creep in hours after curfew, or enjoying the touch of a lover. Real women we all know and probably are when we need to be – it’s just that Kerry’s real women also know all about ghosts, monsters, and dragons.

When I read Kerry’s books, I get to hold a little bit of Kerry in my hands – because she’s fierce and caring and loving…just like her characters.

Thank you my friend, for letting me know you more by knowing your characters. World Tree Girl is a beautiful continuation of your way with words.

ps. this is my first post in almost a year. Wow. I was just telling a friend that it feels like my well of words has run dry. She gently suggested that perhaps this is just my time of laying fallow in order for more fertile writing in the future. I’m not sure about that. I’m not sure about much these days aside from needing to find my way through these days. I am so thankful for the friends in my life who have stayed beside me all this time.

 

Come Back To Me

I am cleaning house today; erasing the evidence that five people and two pets live in this home. Everywhere I look there is pet fur and pet nose prints, lost socks and scraps of papers awaiting recycling. I wonder how on earth we could have accumulated so much detritus since I last did these chores just the other day. And I wonder if these bits and pieces of others ever actually leave me, or if they are somehow fixed to my being like I’ve been tattooed by my life choices.

img_1352On my shower door is a handprint. Several actually, but one stands out in relief. The Mister and I often pass by the shower while it is in use and place a palm against the glass…waiting for the other person to reach out and cover the other’s palm. Palm prints, warming the glass and leaving a reminder that even when separated, we are still connected. The odd thing about these handprints  is that they resist removal. As part of my cleaning rotation, I scrub the shower doors. And yet, ever so often I find that one still appears in the fog, days after it was placed there. It is as if when Mister Soandso and I take the time to connect even in this silly, small way, it leaves an impression. I like this possibility. And I like this tradition we seem to have created for ourselves.

I don’t know who started this tradition only as old as this house, but I do know Mister Soandso doesn’t know that when the light is just right and I catch a glimpse of one of those smudges on the glass, I put my hand over it and whisper, “Come back to me.” It is the same thing I say when I drop off my kids at their schools; “come back to me” I whisper to their backpack-covered backs and their youthful conviction of permanence and optimism.

Come back to me.

Life is filled with uncertainty. For every goodbye said has the potential to be the last time we say those words to that person. I am never not aware of that fact. And so I am always asking them for one more time–please come back to me.

I think we are all in the same boat as we find the souls we cherish – the people who make our lives better for having been a part of them. The challenge is letting folks walk away and knowing that someday they won’t return.

That is the type of thinking that can suck a day’s joy from me in a hot minute. If I let it. But one thing that helps me is remembering that just like how Mister Soandso and I leave our fingerprints on our shower door, no matter how far my children travel away from me in their lives and how many hours the Mister’s job takes him away from home, they are still with me.

This is true because no matter how far they go away, their fingerprints are tattooed all over my heart.

Just as it should be.

 

Giving and Receiving Sanctuary

At 3 am on Wednesday, May 25th, a 3 Alarm fire was set outside the sanctuary of First Congregational UCC Vancouver. Fire crews did amazing work to contain the fire to the western end of the sanctuary and also saved the church steeple and cross. The church is insured and will begin the process of rebuilding.

These 56 words may tell the facts of what happened this week, but they don’t tell the whole story of what happened, and they don’t capture the feelings of the many people impacted by the fire.

What remains of our sanctuary and the million dollar renovation we did on this stained glass.

What remains of our sanctuary and the million dollar renovation we did on this stained glass.

And they certainly don’t answer the question a 4 year-old boy asked me, “But why, Miss Kristina, did somebody do this to us?”

When he asked me that, I did the only thing I could think of…I knelt down, held his tiny hand and said, “I don’t know. But I do know we will be okay.”

I’ve fielded many questions as best I could since I first arrived at the church Wednesday at 6 am looking like a person does when they are awoken to the news that their church and place of employment is on fire. (It’s not my best look, to say the least.)

Most of the time I give the same answer to the 44 and 84 year olds as I do for the 4 year olds.

“I don’t know…but we will be okay.”

But the truth is, okay is also going to be different. The space will never be the same, and the people who regularly use this space will change.

This particular sanctuary, and the sanctuary our whole church and building provides has been a sanctuary in our community for 125 years. It wasn’t just the congregants and holiday worshippers of First Congregational UCC Vancouver who are impacted by the fire. We offer meeting space and office space to many organizations in SW Washington. And we are all homeless and adrift right now.

Weight Watchers, Sierra Club, Martha’s Pantry, MCC of The Gentle Shepherd, Vancouver USA Singers, AA Fireside, the Samoan Adventists, Clark County Music Teachers Association, 6 Rivers Mediation, a disabled young man who works in our building as part of his occupational therapy, and two homeless people/families who shelter on our property are a handful of the groups and folks who no longer have a sanctuary.

Some of those organizations have lost everything. Some have lost only scheduled events and meetings. All will need to find new homes.

All around the world there are people who are homeless and adrift, looking for a place to settle down and settle in. They are looking for their sanctuary in which to take shelter from life’s storms. Up until Wednesday, First Congregational UCC Vancouver was happy to say, “Come, you are welcome here. Sit awhile and know that there is always room at our table.”

Today we have to say, “Come, you are welcome to take sanctuary here…under this tent. Sit awhile on this rented plastic chair. There’s plenty of room for all of us if we sit close enough together.”

We’ve always been more than a building giving sanctuary, but for right now we can’t be that. Instead, we have to be a living sanctuary for one another as we get through this day and the next and all the days after. Together…

Lord, prepare me to be a sanctuary
Pure and holy, tried and true
With thanksgiving, I’ll be a living
Sanctuary for You

Tested by fire, the cross remains, symbolizing our commitment to peace and justice for all.

Tested by fire, the cross remains, symbolizing our commitment to peace and justice for all.

RBF Versus RBG

Let me start out by saying I’ve had no “work” done aside from the sort of work that life does to you via too many late nights and too much stress. Probably the most effective work that life’s done to me is giving me a serious case of myopia which has had the effect of a lifetime spent mostly squinting.

What I’m getting at here folks is that I have wrinkles. I’ve got some lovely smile lines around my eyes, this one weird ass wrinkle that showed up about 3 months ago above my lip, and a super impressive set of Elevens plus a friend between my eye brows. Continue reading

I’m Not Beautiful…Yet

Being part of the writing community is a beautiful thing. Recently, I was reminded of this truth. First, the wonderful Jennifer Gracen was nominated for the “I’m Beautiful The Way I Am” challenge and after posting her 5 photos, she nominated Patty Blount. Both of these women are beautiful ladies and it was fun to see the photos of themselves that they chose to share with us. And then Patty had to go and nominate me.

Nope. Nope, nope, nope.

Nope. Not doin’ it. No way, no how.

That was my reaction, because I’m not beautiful. Sure, I get the self-empowerment message and wholly support it. But this is an area  where I really struggle. And I struggle because that saying about beauty being in the eye of the beholder is so true. I view myself harshly. And yes, my sweet Mister would say that I’m beautiful and so would my mom. But I would never, not in a million years, ever even think those words about myself, let alone say them.

Because I’m not beautiful.

Beautiful is something elusive. A term society uses in an attempt to describe a collection of body parts of symmetrical proportions, of the “right” numbers, the “right” shapes, sizes, colors and all that. Using that notion of beautiful, I am not beautiful. And yet the whole thing has got me thinking about beauty and self-love and doubt and the stupidity I am capable of committing, especially against my own self.

Because I am not beautiful. Yet.

I have no photos of me being beautiful. But I have gadzooks of them capturing moments where I have been happy. Moments when important aspects of myself are visible.

And if I expand my definition of beauty to something more realistic–more representative of the beauty I witness so often in others, then I too have photos of being beautiful. The most beautiful people I have ever seen are far from symmetrical or well-proportioned. They are old ladies filled with wrinkles and sagging skin. They are men with quiet expressions and soulful eyes. They are babies enraptured by their world. They are examples of people content with themselves in that moment and at peace. And they are usually happy with their life at that moment.

Based on that, beautiful is a moment where what matters most is present and witnessed. And also based on that, one day, I fully, 100%, expect to be beautiful. Therefore, I’ve collected a few photos to explain why I’m not beautiful yet but intend to be one day.

IMG_6727Here is one that you might remember. Last year I dyed my hair purple. It was the first time I ever did something to radically and intentionally draw attention to myself and my appearance.

Purple hair gave me lots of opportunities to talk about supporting loved ones with cancer. But more than simply changing my hair color, purple hair gave me a new way of looking at myself. It’s hard to see yourself as staid and boring if you’re sporting brilliant purple hair. So while I’ve long considered myself to be one of the most boring people on earth, perhaps it’s time to remind myself that I’m not actually boring. Just cautious. There is a big difference between those two things. And there is nothing wrong with being cautious. Embracing this aspect of myself is a big part of letting go of what I’ve long thought I should be like and enjoying how I really am. Acceptance is a beautiful thing.

Here is a photo from about 7 years ago when we did a family photo shoot with Amy of The Art of Joy and sheIAE_066 captured this picture of me “flying” Littlest across the labyrinth at work. I love this photo because how can I not adore that gorgeous smile of his…he is having so much fun and I got to be there. In fact, this is how I like to think of myself as a parent: giving my kids their wings to fly. In looking back over 1000s of photos, I realized how many of them are either taken by me (and so not of me), or have me with my kids. Which is fitting because now, whatever I am, I am more “Mom” than anything else. And while I didn’t dream of being a mom when I was a little girl, I think being these three people’s mother is the best thing I’ve ever done. In fact, I think that becoming a mother and then mothering my children for these nearly 16 years has allowed the best parts of myself to be seen. All my worst parts have been put on display as well, but it’s the best parts that are front and center with my kids and my life now. My best may not always be beautiful, but it is real and loving and so very grateful for the chance to experience the world again for the first time as I journey alongside my three children.

A11BWI suppose of all the photos buried on our computer’s hard drive, this one looks the most like “beautiful” by society’s terms. Mister Soandso talked me into doing a photo shoot. (Yes, Kate Kelly is gifted!) He wanted some photos that show me like how he sees me. I’m sharing this one because doing a photo shoot like this is actually very empowering. It got me to stop waiting for perfection to happen and instead embrace what I am today. It is impossible for me to be any taller or any younger. And honestly, I’ll probably never be much thinner either. But allowing this middle-aged body to be photographed in anything other than “mom-jeans” and baggy shirts was a chance to see what the man who loves me sees. Varicose veins, stretch marks, scars, and laugh lines are all a part of me. They prove that I’ve lived this life…not carefully or easily, but with exuberance. I’ve lived so that I have stories to tell. Embracing the life I have rather than wishing for something in the future or regretting things in the past has been a huge part in find the beauty in life.

IMG_0332Years ago, I would tell young people to take risks where they could and where it was safe to do so. Take a risk and do that which some small voice has always whispered in your ear, but that which you’ve denied. For me, that was doing stand-up.

This is actually a goofy photo of me – I have no idea where I was in this set although I know it was at a show at The Brody and it was from my first show where I really tried to incorporate the “rules” for comedy writing in my sets. Doing stand-up was a big part of my coming-of-age. It was during those years that I really started to be comfortable with who I am and the gifts that make me ME. And I do love making people laugh. I can think of nothing more beautiful than getting to do something that makes you happy.

IMG_0335And here is one of my very favorite photos of myself ever taken. I don’t rightly know just what about this photo makes my heart so happy, but if I were to guess, it is because this photo was the first time I ever really saw my mother in me.  It isn’t that I actually look like her, but that I’ve seen her with this exact expression. Knowing that she will always be smiling at the world as long as I do, feels important to me. And since Biggest looks like her as well, she will live as long as he does…. The passing of a smile from generation to generation is beautiful. It affirms what connects us and why family is so important.

When I die, it won’t be any of my individual body parts that my family misses. They will miss my smile or how I hugged them or how my hands made their favorite foods. They will remember what really is beautiful about me…when I am enjoying life as it is rather than wishing for something else. They will remember how I grew into a person who finally saw herself as beautiful by accepting her foibles and embracing the stories that gave her both scars and smiles. And they will remember how their own beauty was mirrored in me.

May we all find mirrors that show our beautiful selves.

 

 

Pooping May Kill

I know, I know. That title may come off as a bit extreme and even perhaps misleading because we all know that its far more likely that not pooping would be a more probable cause of death. But recent events have led me to believe that all those famous folks who are reported to have died on the toilet were probably not simply victims of bad hearts or poorly timed drug overdoses. Nay, they were most likely victims of poorly aligned vertebrae. Anecdotal evidence only holds so much credence, but seriously, it is possible to put your back out while using the toilet. And when that happens, you may just want to die right there on the commode like the rockstar you are. Continue reading