3.29.14 Confessions of a Domestic Failure

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Sometimes I feel like I’m a bit of a lemon when it comes to domesticity. The funny thing is, in many ways, I’m a girly-girl, so you’d think it would come naturally this–keeping house; but it doesn’t. You see, I was quite spoiled growing up … oh sure, I had chores, but nothing a scrub-brush and a little white-lie couldn’t fix. My mom always duped my sister and I into our chores by telling us how, “good” we were at doing them.
         “Sweetie you are just so good at cleaning the toilets,” she would say. Who could resist such sweet talk? As for my sister–she was the dusting queen. To this day, the only thing I feel successful at is scrubbing bathrooms; I still don’t dust. Thankfully, my husband’s mother brainwashed him that he was the best at it, (like my sister) so he does it! I guess it was a secret among mothers to get us to perform with false compliments. Genius–I’ll have to see if it still works on my own kids.

Though I am really decent at keeping things organized, and the kitchen and bathrooms are usually clean, the rest of domesticity is fairly illusive to me. When you think of housekeeping, it’s all cooking and gardens and laundry. Yeah, about that … not so much.

It isn’t that I mind cooking necessarily, I just find spending so much time on prep and clean up a waste of time. I’ve got a whole lot of food allergies, so maybe it is unfair of me (in my somewhat limited palate) but there are just so many other ways I’d like to spend my time than messing with a recipe I’ll need to change anyway. I’m a lot like Rita Rudner who said, “I read recipes the same way I read science fiction. I get to the end and say to myself “well, that’s not going to happen!” Thank God my family isn’t very picky … not that they ever really had a choice. I can make a host of meals, but only three really well … pancakes and eggs, buttered noodles and parmesan and chicken cordon blue. I know right! That last one surprised you! I usually save that meal for company, so my husband is all about having friends over for dinner.

If it can be said that I’m lackluster at cooking, I’m even more dull when it comes to gardening. Scratch that … I’m like the Grim Reaper of plants. My mom, on the other hand, is like Mother Nature incarnate. When I was growing up it was not uncommon to find her outside with a fabulous tan and dirt under her fingernails, surrounded by blossoms and blooms of the most exquisite varieties. The gardens around our house were an Eden, and I had absolutely nothing to do with them. I like the idea of gardening, I just really don’t enjoy doing it–most likely because of my epic-plant-failures. I’ve been unable to keep flowering plants flowering, I’ve over-watered cacti and kept seedlings from sprouting. Someone recently said how great it is for you to get into plants when you have kids. So, I tried to do the right thing and bought all these little cups and seeds. We planted them and laid them all out, then the wind blew too hard and the dog ate the compost-friendly cups–gardening career over. According to Cicero, “If you have a garden and a library, you have everything you need.” According to me … skip the garden.

Well, believe it or not, I saved the worst for last. Because I am absolutely, hopelessly horrible at laundry. I shouldn’t be. Again, I’ve had good genes in this domestic staple. My grandmother (now ninety-two) has been hanging clothes on the line, sewing impossible holes and folding with the efficiency of a professional for as long as I can remember. Born from a genius like that, my mother picked up in natural succession. Able to get out any stain, keep whites their whitest and colors bold, I was lucky to have this lineage. Sadly, it did nothing for me. You see, my mom and grandmother did my laundry for me through college. Yes–hate me if you want to … I wouldn’t change it for the world! Now, a mother of two, married with messes abounding, I’ve gotten my dose of Karma, and laundry really is as awful as I thought it would be for the following reasons:
1. I over-stuff the washer.
2. The dryer needs to run at least three times to really dry things.
3. I wash, fold, and never have time to put it all away.
4. I leave things in the dryer until they’re impossibly crushed to the point of needing to re-wash them.
5. I’ve convinced my husband that I have a vendetta against him by apparently never having his underwear clean. (He actually just went out and bought more.)
6. I cannot, for the life of me, keep socks with their pair. (I even have a sign in my laundry room that says, “Single sock looking for adorable mate.”) The saddest thing is, I donated a huge box of lost socks to my son’s school for puppets, and now, that box is filled again.

So … I admit it. I am a failure. I spend my time teaching, writing and reading. I once tried to join a book club only to discover that all the women did was talk about cooking and gardening. After two books that we “didn’t get around to discussing,” I was done with that disaster! I share all of this with you to prove no one has it all together. If they do … they’re most-likely faking it, or lying to your face. There just isn’t time in a day to do it all, so we might as well try to do what we love well instead.

The thing is, I really am okay with my lack of June Cleaver-ness. My husband will never walk in to see me in pearls while vacuuming. My kids will most-likely never have a fresh plate of cookies and milk when they get home from school (I’m allergic to wheat). My mother will never stop blaming herself for the fault of my inability to be a good laundress, but it is okay. I have forgiven myself, because although I’m a bit of a lemon … I’m fairly good at making lemonade.  And in this life, turning something sour sweet, seems like a good trait to have.

Literarily yours,

Elle

3.26.14 Human

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I love watching people. I do. I think it is fascinating to observe the nature of how people present themselves, versus who they may actually be. Now, it isn’t like I’ve got a lot of time to sit and, “study” the aspects of humanity; I don’t have any theories or profound anthropological insights, but I do see people. And from what I’ve noticed, there are three kinds of people: masqueraders, clones and humans.

Although I love Matt Damon as an actor, I read somewhere that he once said, “It’s better to be a fake somebody than a real nobody.” Now, I don’t know the context of the conversation this came from, but I have to say, as a comment alone, I completely disagree. I believe that if you’re being real, truly genuine, there is no way you could ever be a nobody; I just wish people could believe it. Unfortunately, this is where the masqueraders come in. They are the population of cloaked emotions and hidden agendas. These are the people who are too busy trying to invent a persona others will accept, to recognize that they are losing the essence of who they were supposed to become.

Recently, I was at Starbucks, and I saw three sisters come in. The youngest, about ten, seemed happy to be in the company of the two older girls, twisting her hair and smiling, she obviously drank in their company. The oldest, about seventeen, looked at peace, comfortable in her role as the responsible eldest. But the middle, maybe thirteen, (beautiful and brooding) wore an heir of annoyance at the prospect of “being stuck” there, when she obviously had better things to check on the phone attached to her hand. It broke my heart.

This young, perfect-looking, pre-teen princess was over it–over the scene, over her sisters, over the gift of spending a moment in childhood she’d never get back. From the looks of her, she’d already left the joy of being a kid far behind, and I ached for her. What loss … to be overwhelmingly unimpressed with life already. I wished right then and there that the masqueraders, the fakers of life who posed and pretended would recognize how empty their paths truly were. To forfeit their potential to fit in hardly seems worth the cost to me. But the more I see of humanity, the less I see of people who really know how to be themselves.

There is brilliance in Oscar Wilde’s words, “Be yourself, everyone else is already taken.” Still, I think the second category of people, the clones, (as I call them) try to prove otherwise. Like masqueraders, the clones are not true to themselves, but instead of trying to put on front, they put on a persona, a public face that identifies and validates them to society. These people put themselves into neat categories and fit into a part. But trying to fit a mold is like squeezing into clothes that are too small–you’ll never be comfortable. Clones are everywhere. People place themselves into groups, clubs, niches and cliques, looking and sounding and acting more and more like a cohesive unit than an independent mind, with independent thoughts. Sometimes I wonder, do we mean to do this? Is it our need to “fit in” that strips us of our uniqueness? Or, is it the fear that being “alone” would make us less than enough somehow? I’m not sure I know, and I’m not sure it matters why, I think it only matters that people lose themselves to the habit of blending in … when it is so obvious we were designed not to.

“Always be a first rate version of yourself and not a second rate version of someone else.” That’s the advice iconic actress Judy Garland once gave. And oh, how I love to watch, study and learn from the people with the courage to listen to her–these are the humans. These are the people who do life their own way and live it like a neon sign. Not attached to a label, a look or a lifestyle, I adore the humans who haven’t forgotten how to be one. In many ways, observing people who are sure of themselves is like watching an artist unfold a masterpiece. The confidence and charisma they bring into a room brings color and focus to an otherwise dull scene. And the best part is … they could care less who is watching.

That same night, at Starbucks, two tables over, there was a young couple (early twenties maybe) who I caught being human. I mean this in the most genuine way there is to compliment people, because their aura was infectious and vibrant. Loud, un-filtered laughter filled their corner of the coffee shop. His indie-style t-shirt, tattoos and laid-back heir completely contrasted her preppy-crisp appearance, but her giggle and his chuckle were harmonious. They ignored the stares, the questioning looks and the “get-real” glances. They were completely enveloped in enjoying the moment they were in … together. It was awesome, and before I left, I told them so.

I’m not sure I can say that I’ve never worn a mask, or fit myself into a neat category to dissolve into, but I do know that at this stage in my life, I’m far closer to “human” than I’ve ever been before. I don’t always agree anymore, I speak up, I laugh loud. I raise my kids to be confident, to be different, and to learn more about the world for what it is and what they want to make it. I’m not perfect at being me yet, but the good news is, I get to practice every single day; and so do you. So follow Ralph Waldo Emerson’s advice and, “Make the most of yourself.”

Literarily yours,

Elle

3.23.14 Adult

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It’s official. I’m an adult. I am not proud of it, as I don’t necessarily want to be, but I am nonetheless. Sadly, I’ve been suspecting it for sometime, but yesterday it was confirmed for me. Some of you might think I should have known this much earlier; and perhaps I should have figured it out when: I went to college, got my Master’s, got a real job, got married, bought a house, had kids … but no.

Believe it or not, I’ve always been brilliantly in-tune with my imagination, so I was able to ignore adulthood quite easily. In fact, during my first year of teaching, a beautiful veteran teacher of nearly thirty-years became something like a mentor and mother to me at school. After a couple of weeks I invited her over for tea and coffee. From my kitchen table she smiled at me and said, “You look like a little girl playing house.” And from that day on, she has affectionately called me, “little girl.”

So how did it happen then you ask? Well, I’m embarrassed to say, but it all came down to a garage door. My husband had a little fight with ours, and let’s just say the door won, but with major dents to show for it. I, not being much of a dent-fan, avidly supported his suggestion to get a new door; yesterday it was delivered. And here it comes. I love it! It is the prettiest garage door on the block! Today I found myself, out to run our dog just looking back at it and thinking, “Oh how proud and lovely you are.” Yup. That’s it. That is how I know. Because who in their right imagination would ever bother fawning over a garage door. It’s official. I’m an adult.

When I come to think of it honestly, I could see it coming. I’ve been into organization for quite awhile, teenage drivers look like babies to me, I enjoy taking naps, and (on more than one occasion, though I ‘d never admit it) I’ve been called ma’am instead of miss. What happened to miss? I liked miss much better. Thankfully, my students are too lazy to say misses, and still make me feel young with the title of miss. I actually had a student correct his friend when addressing me and said, “Dude, she’s married; it’s supposed to be misses.”
    To which I quickly replied, “No! It’s okay. I mean, I’m wearing a wedding ring so it isn’t like I’ll forget that I’m married if you guys call me miss.” Age-related disaster–averted.

Still, I’ve noticed other signs. For example, I hate when teeny-boppers start screaming at the hot guy on the screen, so when we go to the movies I make my husband sit far to the side so we’re completely alone (though the view is much worse from there). I get exited about books and clothes for gifts. I actually enjoy eating granola and vegetables. I buy anti-aging eye-cream! What frustrates me the most is that I do not remember giving myself permission to grow up. I didn’t make the conscious decision and yet, the years sneaked up on me without my consent. It isn’t that I mind getting older, I just don’t want to be too adult-ish about it. Casey Stengel says, “The trick is growing up without growing old.”

Now, I’m going to vindicate myself here. I may have to admit adulthood; but I don’t have to give up childhood completely. My personality hasn’t changed (much), and I still find that I, and those who love me, know I’m a, “little girl” at heart. I love Disney Channel and cartoons. My favorite food is peanut butter on a spoon (with no distractions). I have a grand collection of children’s books (and have way before I actually had children of my own). I wear pink, purple or white Converse sneakers and my favorite jeans have holes and patches. I lay on the floor with my dog as my pillow. I dress up with my daughter for tea parties and tickle-fight my son. For my thirtieth birthday, some of my best friends threw me a pajama party and we watched the movie, “Thirteen Going on Thirty,” because I’ve been told, on more than one occasion, that I am forever trapped in that mentality … to which I say–thank God.

I may be a grown up, but I have stubbornly decided to never actually cross over. I haven’t heard it more beautifully described than when Edna St. Vincent Millay said, “Childhood is not from birth to a certain age and at a certain age The child is grown, and puts away childish things. Childhood is the kingdom where nobody dies.” More over, I think childhood is where pretend stays to live. So why not stay? Reach into the old drawer of your favorite parts of being a kid. Pull out the dreams, the games, the snacks, secrets and jokes. Cast off the, “I’m too old for that,” comments and play. You may be an adult; you may even get excited about lame things like garage doors and paint colors, but you don’t have to admit it. I’ll never tell, and if you want to be a kid … I’m right there with you, ready and willing to pretend.

Literarily yours, 

Elle

3.21.14 Stay

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So if you’ve been following me for awhile now, I have no doubt you’ve figured out that I’m not exactly a, “sit-still,” kind of girl. I’m something more akin to multi-tasking on steroids, so much so, that I sometimes dart around a room initiating mini-projects, and lose track of the reason I went into that room in the first place! I’m going to blame it on five years ago, and having putting our old house up for sale.

You see, my husband and I decided, at that time, that we wanted to move closer to work. When we first listed, we had only our son (a baby at the time) but a year and a half later, I was eight months pregnant with our daughter and the house finally sold! I don’t know if you’ve ever sold a house, but let me tell you, it’s not fun. Trying to sell a house is something like preparing for company–only worse, because it’s company you don’t know. All of a sudden, the dishes, dog hair and toothpaste-stained sinks that were acceptable for your family two seconds ago, are now a disgrace for the absolute strangers that will be walking throughout your house, to judge you. Before we’d leave the house, whether for lunch, church, or work, we needed to make sure it was spotless, just in case a potential buyer wanted an impromptu walk-through.

So you can see why, in that eighteen month stretch, I became a little obsessed. (Did I mention I was pregnant? Ever hear of “nesting?” Look it up. It sucks.) In any case, I became an organizational nut-job, and it has taken me most of this five year period to get over it. Now, I can’t say my house is always neat–it’s not, but I still completely stress about things being out of order before I leave. I hate the blankets not folded and the dishes not stacked. I can’t stand water cups left out or toys not in decent order (aka: drawers where I cannot see them). The thing is … my family is not this way.

My children, bless them, are children in the most childish way. They couldn’t care less if things aren’t picked up. Now, they are mommy-pleasers, and do pick up when I ask them to, but of their own volition? Never. My husband, God grace him for trying, is somewhat more akin to the actor Chris Helmsworth’s viewpoint, who was once quoted as having said, “I have sporadic OCD cleaning moments around the house. But then I get lazy and I’m cured. It’s a very inconsistent personality trait.” My husband too helps out a great deal in these random fits of his, but then, just like someone switched off a vacuum cleaner … he’s over it. And that’s the problem. Even when I’m exhausted, I can’t let it lie, and when I do, I’m a complete nightmare to be around (I know because I’ve heard myself and I don’t want to be around me either)!

The other night was one of these nights. I hadn’t exercised yet, I needed to blog, I didn’t take the dog out, the laundry was needing attention, my dishes were doing a fantastic rendition of the Leaning Tower of Pisa and I was starting to freak out, to say the least. But then … a tiny voice from my sweet girl said, “Mama, snuggle time!” Here’s where I have to rewind. About a month ago, I started something with my daughter called, “Stop and Snuggle.” I realized that I was who I was and in the midst of my being me, I sometimes neglected those little moments that my kids needed me the most. In my imperfect struggle toward perfection, I didn’t always pause to hug and cradle them, ask them how they were feeling or just sit long enough to give them a chance to share. And I know how bad this makes me sound, but why on earth would you care to read anything from someone who walls you from the truth? I can’t do that–even if it would make me sound like a better person. I think you deserve real.

So in this mandate of “Stop and Snuggle” time, my daughter has the right to use this phrase whenever she feels like it. She will literally say the words, and wait patiently for me to drop whatever I’m doing and come to her. And I do. No matter what it is, or how important I’ve made it out to be, I hit the pause button on life and go to live it with her for, usually, the greatest moment in my day. Simone de Beauvoir once said, “It is in the knowledge of the genuine conditions of our lives that we must draw our strength to live and our reasons for living,” and I think these times are proof of that for me.

Although I come to her immediately, my character kicks in after about two minutes, and I never sit much longer than that. But yesterday was different. My daughter had been sitting on the sofa, wrapped in her favorite blanket; I was across the kitchen averting the potential battle between my multiple email addresses and whose inbox could fill the fastest. When, as I said before, her tiny clear voice called for a, “Stop and Snuggle.” Obediently, I flipped the lid down on my laptop, crossed the room and scooped her up for a quick squeeze. But when I got there, instead of hugging back, she turned, her big blue eyes reflecting in my own, and said, “And this time Mommy … stay.”

Stay. Such a small word really, but it felt so big. It was a moment of truth if I ever recognized one–so I stayed. And that made all the difference. Not my email count, not my chores, not my accomplishments–the fact that for once, I stayed. Samuel Smiles once said, “Life will always be, to a large extent, what we ourselves make of it.” And I think that sometimes I need to focus less on making a living and more on making a life. Are you with me?

Literarily yours,
Elle 

3.18.14 Expectations

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I think that at some point, we all form a certain expectation for ourselves … of our lives and the way we think they will turn out, or aught to turn out. But then they don’t, at least not in the way we thought they would–and its then we learn to deal with the leftovers of the paint-by-number picture we couldn’t fill in. Author Po Bronson once said, “If you want to give yourself a fair chance to succeed, don’t expect too much too soon.” While I think he has a salient point, I can’t help but sometimes wonder when I’ll get the rest of my picture sorted.

Recently, my husband and I attended a talent show for our children’s school. Our son was involved in the all-class first grade production of the, “Three Little Pigs.” Like any good, gushing parents, we sat in the front row snapping pictures and taking video clips of our little piggy (though he had no speaking part or notable role as there were sixteen little piggies in this version). Clapping and grinning, we nudged one another in pride and smiled at our baby boy on stage. Then … the, “other” performers happened. First there was the six-year-old guitarist. Then, another six-year-old played the violin. Then there was a girl in the same class who played a classical piece on the harp! THE HARP! When it came time for the cellist in third grade, (and after my husband and I gained enough composure to close our gaping mouths) we marveled, and then–lost it. Shaking with fits of laughter both of us tried to tactfully hide, we failed miserably, giggling like kids in church who were supposed to be serious.

After realizing we were way behind on the musical front, my husband leaned over and said, “Bet none of these kids can ski down a black-diamond.” A few days later as I was cooking dinner, I turned on some hip hop music and my kids and I spent a half hour pop, lock and spinning around the kitchen. I had a flash in my mind of compiling a video compilation of my kids skiing and brake-dancing to explicit lyrics during the next talent show. But you know what? It wouldn’t be half bad. My kids are wicked talented, just not in many conventional ways, and I guess I feel like I have a lot to be proud of in that alone.

I think that in terms of expectation, I always try to tell my kids and my students that it’s, “you against you.” You are the only one you really need to try to outdo or impress. But then I wonder, do I really live by that mentality? Do I have a me against me attitude? Does the idea of  who I thought I’d be match up to who I am? Am I at least on my way to who I’m supposed to be? Will I know the difference?

Alexander Pope once said, “Blessed is he who expects nothing, for he shall never be disappointed.” While I don’t necessarily agree, I have learned what is, and is not worth fussing about. When I first became a mother, everything had to be just so. My son’s clothes had to be new and match. Everything was pristine and as bubbliciously-perfect as I could make it this side of heaven. Now, bless her heart, my daughter is wearing “Friday” days of the week underpants, and it’s Tuesday. Hey, clean is clean and at this point in the game … that’s what matters. Someday (no doubt somewhere near fifth grade when she’ll actually be able know the days of the week independently of her mother’s damage) I think she will forgive me.

Honestly, it isn’t my daughter, or son, or (bless him for his patience) my husband, I worry about. I know they love me, flaws and all. It’s everyone else (me included) and the judgement that I may not actually meet or exceed their expectations as I’d like to. But I try to reign this in, and keep perspective. Jodi Picoult had a beautiful quote in her book Nineteen Minutes that helped me. It said, “If you spent your life concentrating on what everyone else thought of you, would you forget who you really were? What if the face you showed the world turned out to be a mask … with nothing beneath it.”

So the truth is–I’m not sure if I’m there yet. I don’t know if I’m exactly where and who I am supposed to be, but I know I’m on the right track. My kids might dance to ghetto music sometimes, but they smile with confidence while doing it. My husband might get frustrated with my insecurities, but he never doubts that every night he’ll have a hand to hold that will forever wear his ring. My students might not always want to discover language and literature, but by the time they leave me, they will, no doubt, have learned ways to discover themselves. And so I guess I’m on my way … and I expect for now, that’s close enough.  

Literarily yours,

Elle

3.15.14 Puppy Love

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Carl Friedrich Gauss once said, “Life stands before me like an eternal Spring with new and brilliant clothes.” That may be all well and good for you Mr. Gauss, but the whole, “Spring is beautiful” thing, to me–is crap. I should know, because this morning, I spent an hour shoveling about fifty pounds of the dog version of it into two garbage bags! Spring is not beautiful; Spring is messy! It is what comes after the clean white snow melts and we get to see what has really been going on underneath its pristine lies! Warm and then cold, dirty and wet, mushy and brown, Spring starts out as a hot mess.

 

So as I stooped outside, I realized that the sunny side of my yard wasn’t nearly as difficult to manage as the shady side. Wearing my adorable pink and green flowered gardening boots, I soon found they were entirely too fancy for the task at hand. Picking and plucking, kicking and then ducking, I found I needed to shove my heel or toe under and over the frozen poopsicles that our delightful, one-year-old puppy decided to deposit in the snow. (Now I know you’re feeling sorry for the boots, I was too, but honestly, it is the most action they’ve ever seen as I don’t, nor do I ever intend to actually garden.)

 

As if this parade of flying yuck wasn’t difficult enough to manage, I had my dog, Afton, trailing around behind me. Scratching and nosing in the ice, digging for God knows what, and then coming over to lick my face as I bent over her messes … it was a cruelly ironic scene to say the least. So … Spring is eternal alright, but not in the ethereal beauty of poets and painters; Today’s version was more like an episode of the afterlife I will not be a part of.

 

As awful as it was, I have to say that this morning was about a hundred times better than March 15th a year ago. It was a Friday, and my daughter (three at the time) and I had just dropped off my son to Kindergarten. At nine in the morning we were on a busy road near our home, when I saw a man trying to cross the street. Upset that no one else was stopping for him, I slowed and let him pass. Unfortunately, the drunk driver behind me did not. Hit from behind at about thirty-five miles per hour, I was never more thankful for the five-point-harness that car seats are required to have, or the small voice from the backseat that said, “Sorry mama, I dropped your phone.” Thank God that was it. After getting checked out by the paramedics, we were given the okay. They say that after an accident, you don’t really feel the full effects until later–sound advice, I should have perhaps listened to. But, at the time, I felt fine. I knew I’d stop at the doctor in the next week, but by then it would be too late. Because that night, most likely from the adrenaline-rushed activities of the day, my husband and I weren’t able to sleep. So at two o’clock in the morning, we grabbed his ipad and decided to look at puppies online.

Poor timing as it was, I grew up with German Shepherds myself, and I always wanted a dog. Plus, our daughter had been asking for a puppy since she could talk and had, as of late, adopted an alternate ego of a puppy personality she called, Charlotte. My husband adored this “version” of our daughter, as she didn’t speak the whole time she was in-character. She would bark occasionally, but he relished in the act of throwing a ball for her to fetch for about an hour at a time. It didn’t bother him a bit that she held things in her mouth or licked her brother … but it began to bother me, as I had nightmares of her forgetting how to talk and only “woofing” for our attention. So … we got a dog.

I have to caution you, however, there is a reason you’re not supposed to make any major, life-altering decisions when you have a concussion (which, by the way, was exactly what I was diagnosed as having via the E.R. doctor two days later). The reason behind it is, that you’re not able to really think with your whole logic. Your ability to rationalize is just a little bit foggy. Well, that fog, and restless night of sleep produced a puppy purchase and pick-up the very next day. We bought a twelve-week-old Bernese Mountain Dog who would grow to be between ninety to one-hundred and ten pounds. Yikes!

Last Spring was about as neat as this one, with late nights and early mornings, muddy paws and holes bit into all of our favorite things. Afton was (and still is) a high-maintenance, beauty-of-a-beast. Thinking she is the center of everyone’s world, she often pokes, prods or pushes her way into every conversation until one of us is sitting on the floor with an eighty-pound blanket. If you dare to drop a crumb she is on it faster than lightning and has a particular brilliance at choosing the loudest of toys at the most in-opportune of moments.  And yet, we couldn’t imagine our days without her.

Josh Billings once said, “A dog is the only thing on earth that loves you more than he loves himself.” This, in my experience, is completely true. I think of myself in the morning: my hair tousled, eyes bleary, stumbling un-gracefully down the stairs with mis-matched pjs and less-than-awesome breath (and I thought Spring was a mess). But from the greeting Afton gives me, you’d think I was the queen of England. She wags and jumps and licks and whimpers like she cannot believe I’d give her a glance. She is too good … too pure of puppy heart and, regardless of the messes she makes, I don’t deserve all the adoring attention she gives.

I think about the way that I casually say, “I love you,” barely glancing at the recipient before I’m off on my way to my own world of whatever I’m doing. And if I do stop to give a hug or kiss, it is quick and hurried, like my speech. But Afton doesn’t love that way. When you give her a moment, she’ll sit with you as long as you’d like. Her love is on your terms … and how often can I say I do the same for the people I love in my life? Rarely at best. I think I’m learning a lot from my dog–virtues I need to be reminded of, like patience, trust and what it means to be selfless.

I guess, this Spring (messy as it is, and messy as I’ll be at it) I’m going to focus on puppy love … because that phrase means a whole lot more to me now.

Literarily yours,

Elle

 

3.12.14 Instant Gratification Nation

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So I mean this in the best way, but sometimes I cannot help but wonder if everyone around me is losing it. Granted, most of my life is surrounded by kids–so it’s more likely they never had it, but still … the things kids say. Today, for example, I reminded a student, (a thirteen-year-old boy) to write his name on his paper. When he looked at his last name after writing it, he said, “Huh, I never really realized my last name had a “z” in it before. And I was like, seriously! How in the heaven did you miss it? Or take the other day, a girl walked into my class and said, “Hey, Mrs. H, do you happen to have any extra pants?”
    “Pants?” I questioned.
    “Yeah,” she said, “I found out that my pants have two holes in them and I wondered if I could borrow yours.” Now as if this wasn’t awkward enough, I have to say that this girl and I are not even remotely close to the same size or height! Again, seriously? I’ve had kids ask me: if I could just write their papers for them, why they need to capitalize or punctuate when I understood what they meant anyway, and ask if, rather than doing an assignment, I would please just fail them. To which I say, yikes! These are what I call my, “sweet & lows.” They’re nice kids, but they don’t really take a whole lot of time to fill more than their Facebook status. This is the future people … but, in my opinion, it doesn’t have to be.

 
I’d like to say that it’s just because they’re kids, they’re immature and they don’t know any better, but sadly, I’ve heard of just as many ludicrous run-ins with adults! A friend of mine was recently talking to a girl she went to high school with. Not having any children of her own yet, this acquaintance suggested, “You should really get some.” Get some? Like she can just go to the kid store and pick a few up! I’ve had a parent say to me that she wanted her daughter to do better in Science and Social Studies because, according to her, “Them’s basically the same thing.” Wow! Or there was one time my husband was speaking to someone at work (a renowned medical company, mind you) who talked about the island of Alaska! We have to wonder about these people right? Because the worst part is, most of the time they don’t see a thing in the world wrong with what they say. Author Cassandra Clair once wrote, “If you were half as smart as you thought you were, you’d be twice as smart as you are.” Harsh, but sometimes true.

 
Now, while completely worth a laugh, I can’t pretend that I haven’t said or done things that would sometimes land me in this, “did-I-just-say-or-do-that” category. I typically blame lack of sleep, but really, I think it is a little more than that. We’ve become what I call an “Instant Gratification Nation.” We don’t wait, we don’t filter our words, we don’t plan first, and often … sadly … we just don’t think!
I’ve often discovered that I too am a product of the: “I want what I want when I want it, ” culture-shift. I don’t wash two loads of laundry, I shove everything into one so that when I empty even one piece of it, the whole tight load comes pouring out. In haste I’ve dumped muffin ingredients that, should have been sorted, together to, “save time,” just to have a batch of lumpy rocks we tossed. Just this morning, I wanted desperately to get to an appointment early, so instead of blow drying my hair, I had the stellar idea to turn up the heat blowers in my car. When that wasn’t quick enough, I brilliantly opened my windows, forgetting that the current polar-vortex would not only dry my hair, but freeze it. Fail! Now sporting some sort of Icelandic dreads, I could barely take myself seriously and rightly laughed at myself for the tool that I was.

 
So why do I share these embarrassing anecdotes? To make a point, that even though in the end, I might be a step above not recognizing the letters of my own last name, I think we all need to own up to the lifestyle we’re hurrying past. There’s a quote from playwright Herb Gardner that says, “You have got to own your days and live them, each one of them, every one of them, or else the years go right by and none of them belong to you.” Well said Mr. Gardner. I would further that idea, that not only will our years not belong to us if we continue to live in our state of, “instant gratification,” but we also run the risk of making ourselves seem like idiots in the process!
Just for fun, try to think of a few of the, “seriously?” moments you’ve been witness to. Now admit one of the, “one-time-I …” to yourself and laugh. Finally, make a pledge to live life a little slower, a little sweeter, and (dear Lord please) a little smarter.

 
Literarily yours,

 
Elle

3.10.14 Someone Else’s Mess

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I got home late tonight. Late, and, I might add, tired. But when I got home, it wasn’t my soft bed and cool sheets that awaited me–no. It was a mess … someone else’s mess. Colossal and stretching from one room to another, my house dripped with painful evidence of mommy being gone. Hair bands and strewn socks, stacked books and snack wrappers, empty cups and dirty dishes, paw prints and crayons not put away. It might as well have been a cyclonic episode … a tornado at least would be an acceptable excuse! Worst of all, I had three attention-starved pets to deal with whose barks and meows almost did me in.

 
Frustrated, I tossed my bags on the ground. This was not how I left things, bleary-eyed with sleep as I was, I remembered that much. The scene instantly brought to mind a quote from Newt Gingrich when he said, “Perseverance is the hard work you do after you get tired of doing the hard work you already did.” So I huffed and I puffed, and blew my house back into semi-working order. I persevered alright, but not in the way you might think.

 
As I was picking up I couldn’t help but think of the other messes I tended to clean up that weren’t my own. I thought of the students who came to school like entitled superstars, unwilling to work or try. I thought of the attitudes of difficult people that I needed to deal with in my day, who brought their baggage to me, expecting me to somehow recycle it back with a smile. But after a few minutes of pure self-wallowing, I realized that everyone faces the same thing really. Think about doctors, giving us advice on how to live healthy as we continue to abuse our bodies. Think about the pastors that preach, “good news” to us, only for us to forget their message by Monday. Think about the waiters and the grocers who certainly don’t ask for excessively sticky tables or wayward carts that cause spills.

 
And finally I thought of God. I thought of the mess we’ve made of his world, and particularly, the mess I so often make of me. I try to clean, to compartmentalize and to fix. I see and I do and I rarely stop to look back at the wake I’m often making by trying to clean up behind everybody else. Sometimes, I’m even convinced that my expectations make situations a lot dirtier than they need to be by the attitude I carry. Ironically, when it comes to the soul, I don’t necessarily think that organization skills are something God is really concerned with; there might be a much greater use of my time than perfection of appearances.

 
 Suddenly, the untidiness I saw around me seemed small, and worse … small minded. When my kids wake up they won’t notice that I folded all the blankets, that I made organized piles and put all the toys in appropriate bins. My husband will most likely ignore the fact that our house now looks much different than it did. But in the words of Evan Meekins, “Before I fix the world, I have to fix myself,” and the last thing I should care about, if I’m really, “cleaning house,” is praise for it.
Now I’m not just writing this to give myself permission not to clean up (okay maybe a little). It seems to me that the more time we spend seeing “someone else’s mess,” the less chance we’ll be accountable enough to recognize our own. Just think, who is cleaning up after yours? After mine?

 
Literarily yours,

 
 Elle

3.8.14 Crutches

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There’s a great song I remember from a long time ago called, “Not an Addict.” About drug addiction, (something I’ve never personally experienced) I cannot say how I relate to it really, other than I liked the melody and raw rush of emotions the band, K’s Choice, sang it with. After listening to the lyrics recently, they really did portray the struggle of denial. And even though I’ve not struggled with drugs, I have struggled with other things, and they’re not all that fun to admit to either.

 
It’s funny because it never feels like falling when you trip, but coming up from down can hurt a lot. In terms of addiction, I’ve seen a pattern humans follow. First, we do something because it’s fun, we like it or it makes us feel important in some way. Then, we do something because it is what we’ve been doing, so we’re used to it. Finally, we do what we do because we don’t recognize ourselves without, it; and by then we’ve gone to far. We need it. Our habit, dirty-little-secret or addiction has now become our crutch, and we’ve forgotten how to walk through life on our own.

 
A quote from Ellen Burnstyn’s  recently hit home to me. It said, “She goes from one addiction to another. All are ways for her to not feel her feelings.” When I first read this I thought, Oh, so sad. Whoever “she” is must really have some terrible struggles to “not feel.” Then I got off my high horse and realized I do this too. Sure my addictions aren’t drugs or alcohol, but what about my commitments, my endless string of, “yes, I can do it” replies that feed my sense of achievement or purpose? I have, in fact, many times felt myself numbing to society, relationships and even my faith in the addictive struggle to keep going, keep climbing and keep up with the ideal version of who I think I’m supposed to be.

 
You might say this isn’t a “real” addiction, it’s just life. Still, I would argue I can relate in small ways; from what I’ve seen, it’s the small addictions we need to look out for. Nothing big gets big without first being small. Nothing big becomes what it is without our permission to grow.

 
When I was a teenager, my Junior year was supremely busy. Involved in honors classes, dance every day, family and friend obligations, I got too busy to do normal things – like eat. It began as an accident really, this weight loss, but soon, I noticed, and so did other people. Each compliment, or word of concern that I masked as a compliment, became my food … my nourishment. I started to see my reflection as one of numbers, (particularly the negative ones). And before I knew it, that small bit of weight I was losing became a daily obsession with the scale. I noticed the number of pounds I lost, bites I took, calories I consumed and calories I burned. I wasn’t out of control, I was too in control, but of the wrong things.

 
Within about six months I began noticing other numbers. I saw the number of times my parents and sister cast worried glances at one another. I felt the number of headaches and forgetful spells that tired me. I saw the number of bruises I gained at a touch and how often my hands would involuntarily shake. Finally, I realized the number of opportunities I would miss if I continued to starve myself; so I stopped, but it was far from easy and to this day I struggle with reflections.

 
 Jon Kabat-Zinn once said, “All the suffering, stress, and addiction comes from not realizing you are already what you are looking for.” And I didn’t. Inherently, regardless of the number of people who loved me and looked out for me, I needed only one person’s approval … my own. It took me a long time to reach this conclusion. And I can’t help but wonder how many of you are still waiting to grant yourself this gift?

 
So, as a step forward in my journey, this Spring season I am giving up coffee. Though not extreme, I know that I am a small-sort of addict … when you wake up and the first thing on your mind is a dose of French vanilla caffeine, there’s a bit of a dependance brewing along with the grinds. And, though many might say there’s no shame in one or two cups, I don’t like that I felt myself need it. No matter how small it seems, I don’t want crutches. I know coffee isn’t my worst addiction, it’s my self-seeking, “busy-makes-me-better” personality. But maybe depriving myself of caffeine will slow me down enough to walk away from the small stuff that I make too big a priority out of. And just maybe, if I’m lucky, I’ll be able to feel the feelings I tend to rush right past.

 
Literarily yours,

 
Elle

3.6.14 Discretion

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There is an amazing quote in one of my favorite quote books of all time, you may have heard of it … the Bible. Well, in Proverbs 2:11 it says, “Discretion will protect you and understanding will guard you.” I love the way the author gives life and character to these words, discretion and understanding, as if they had power within them; and honestly I believe they do. This is beautiful, comforting and true, however, I can assure you that I am in desperate need of practice to apply it to my life. You see, I have never been what one would call discreet. Defined as:  careful in one’s speech and actions in order to avoid causing offense; intentionally unobtrusive, I could almost laugh at how, “non-discreet” I can be at times. It isn’t that I’m too brash, too bold or even too blunt, I just find that I cannot really hold in my feelings if I’m passionate about something, (and honestly, I tend to be pretty opinionated).

 
Sometimes I wish I were more like my sister. Bright and beautiful, she is and always has been, a listener. Ever since we were young I can remember her as one who measured her words and actions with precise calculation. She never said something unless she was absolutely sure of herself and offered advice only sparingly. I think people love to talk to her so much because she truly embraces that Irish proverb which says, “God gave us two ears and one mouth for a reason, so we ought to listen twice as much as we speak.”  She is careful, and cautious, open-minded and able to relate to most. I feel that understanding does “guard” her in a sense, because she takes the time to see where someone is coming from and doesn’t speak with a quick or sharp tongue that gets her into trouble.

Me, on the other hand … I’m another story, a loud, chatty one. Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m a pretty nice person, but when God gave me two ears, he gave me an overwhelmingly large mouth to go with them. Sometimes I feel like talking is such a part of me that I wouldn’t even recognize myself without being heard. If you’re unsure, look at this blog! Tons of words! I enjoy very much listening to people, but I find that I’m a fixer, a do-er, and I tend not to be very discreet in my offering of whatever thoughts come to mind the moment they enter. Sometimes I joke around with my students that I became a teacher for the simple fact that no one would be able to write, “talks too much in class,” on my report cards anymore, because I would now be paid to do it!

 
All joking aside, I do think there is something to be said for hearing people out. As “good girl,” as I try to be, I can think of many times I formed an opinion of something that was said or perceived in someone’s tone that turned out to be just a random comment. It makes me think, God, I hope no one is judging me in the flippant comments that sometimes come out of my mouth! Graciously, I am usually surrounded by middle schoolers who have much worse things coming out of their mouths, so they forgive me! Still, I know if I want discretion to protect me, I need to listen and if I am ever to have understanding be my guard, I need to break through the preconceptions I place upon others who are just waiting, like me, to be heard.

 
Literarily yours,

 
Elle