Waiting… and Fuming

Sarah 2005Have you ever wondered what a speaker does in the hour or so before she gives her presentation? I don’t know about Pat Gohn or Lisa Hendey or Kelly Wahlquist . . . but I can tell you what I was doing last night.

Fuming. Because I couldn’t find a lipstick. Real spiritual, right?

I wear makeup about 12 times a year, usually a swipe of mascara and a dab of lipstick. My husband thinks I’m a natural beauty, so why mess with it? But like any gal, when it’s time to stand and deliver, I like to get a bit gussied up.

Only this time, my child-who-shall-be-nameless had swiped all THREE of my lipsticks along with a few other items. And frankly, it was the last boundary-related straw that week. I’ll draw a veil of privacy over the discussion that ensued (for both our sakes), but suffice it to say that I arrived at church feeling rather depleted. What made me think that I had anything worth sharing with these women, when I could barely get myself to the church without strangling my daughter?

I was happy to see another writer friend, Jeannie Ewing, in the audience. Several other special-needs moms as well. And as I shared my Lipstick Story with them, I heard warm and appreciative laughter. I guess I wasn’t the only mom in the room who ever had to put her makeup under lock and key.

Later, one of the women took me aside and told me the story of her struggles with her own teenager. She spoke of her anxiety in waiting, in wondering what the future would look like for her daughter. This, I understood. All of it. And in that moment, I was reminded of something: That being a speaker or teacher — or a parent — is not about handing out dazzling perfection from a pedestal on high. It’s about bearing witness to the mercy of God in my own life, despite (and sometimes because of) its imperfections, and helping others to see that same Providence at work in theirs.

Where is God calling you to witness?

Are you waiting and fuming, or waiting and worrying, this Advent? “Let nothing trouble you, let nothing frighten you,” said St. Teresa of Avila. “All things pass away, but God never changes. Patience obtains all things, and those who possess God want for nothing. God alone suffices.”

It’s not too late to pick up a copy ofAdvent with Saint Teresa of Calcutta on Franciscan Media or Amazon.com.  Happy Advent!

The Long-Distance Daughter

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERALosing a parent is never easy. All the steps leading up to that moment, whether sudden onset or gradual decline, and whether physical or mental or both, bring their own set of challenges for those who are close enough to assist. But these past few weeks I’ve discovered that being the “long-distance daughter” is its own kind of hell.

Often there aren’t any good options. Drop everything and go? Maybe — of course, it may be only a temporary (and costly) solution to what is likely to be a long-term need. Meanwhile, jobs and kids and responsibilities pile up relentlessly. Airplane tickets cost money, and driving may not be practical.

Stay in touch by phone, praying, and wait for a call to come? Sometimes that is the only thing to do … still (and this may be the “oldest child” in me talking) it’s hard not to feel guilty about leaving the heavy lifting to siblings who have equally busy lives and equally limited resources.

Years ago, I remember my mother commenting how hard it was for her, as the oldest daughter, when her mother chose to move in with her granddaughter, my cousin. Mom felt that she should be the one to tend to her mother’s needs, and make her mother’s last days as comfortable as possible. Yet in the end, Mom’s role was one of welcome visitor, rather than care-taker. It was a painful, but unavoidable, reality: She was the firstborn, but not the one to whom her mother reached out for help.

Rationally, she may have understood why things turned out the way they did, just as I see the logic of my own parents’ choices: It makes sense to have the daughter with a financial background manage the finances, the daughter in closest proximity to handle the medical decisions, and the daughter who is an advocate in her professional life to advocate for my mother’s needs where she is. It is also true that, even if I were the best person for the job, I have real limitations due to the needs of my own family, not to mention the eight hundred miles between us.

Even so, I have to say, it stinks to be the long-distance daughter. With all the engrained sense of responsibility of being the oldest, it’s hard not to be self-incriminating and reproachful. And yet, having watched my own mother walk this particular path, I have witnessed some of the landmines. Resentment. Anger. Helplessness. Pettiness. Fear. Did I mention resentment?

And then, the greatest bugaboo of all: plain, interminable grief. She has not died, though she is no longer herself. A dying of a different kind.

Have you ever been a long-distance daughter? How did you get through it? What did you find helpful?

31 Days of De-Stressed Living, Day 30: Zebra Girl!

az_zebrasWhen I think of zebras, I immediately think “black-and-white.” Black-and-white thinking can be extremely stress-inducing. (Unless we’re talking about cookies, fresh from the Reading Terminal Market or Zabars Bakery. Those are stress-lifting, served with a proper cup of tea to cut the sweetness.)

But on zebras, those black-and-white stripes serve a purpose that is most fully realized when the zebras stick together. While no two sets of stripes are exactly alike (stripes on zebras are a bit like fingerprints on humans), when a herd of zebras stand close together, their stripes camouflage the individuals, making it harder for predators to attack.

What’s more, when predators do attack, the injured zebra is surrounded by the others, who band together to drive off the predator. For that reason, zebras do not sleep away from the herd; they depend on the safety of the group.

Are we really so different? When God said, “It is not good for man to be alone,” he was pointing to the simple truth that one of the ways we reflect his image and likeness is that we are intrinsically social, designed to be in community with others. For women, it’s especially important to find the society of other women.

We are Zebra Girls: Individually, our stripes make us beautiful … yet we are strongest with the support of those whose stripes are like our own.

Recently I received a note from an old friend, whose absence from my life has been particularly difficult this past year. I had tried to reach out, tried to reconnect, but something had come between us. In time, I realized I needed to let go — I had to focus my energies on more immediate needs. But seeing her familiar handwriting in the mail, the pang hit again, and I realized just how much I had missed her.

Not every friendship is meant to last a lifetime. Some friends pass through our lives like gentle breezes, momentary gifts from the hand of God to fill a pressing need. What my friend taught me, though, is that even lifelong friendships have chapters. Sometimes the zebra steps away — or gets separated — from the herd. But our strength is in our stripes. And our stripes work best when we travel together.

Who do you need to call this week, Zebra Girl?

Photo Credit: “One Kind” webpage on the Zebra

31 Days of De-Stressed Living, Day 27: Wear Something Pretty

beautiful womanIt’s a chicken-and-egg kind of thing: Do we feel good when we look good, or do we make more effort to look good when we feel good? Maybe it’s a symbiotic kind of relationship.

I will tell you this: For the past several weeks when I’ve woken up, I’ve been so sore I could barely roll out of bed and into a pair of sweats. One of the perks of working from home, I guess. But after a night on a new-to-me featherbed, I jumped out of bed, showered and slathered on my favorite face cream, and put on a GOOD work outfit. Yes, just to stay home.

And I feel … great!

I’ve been thinking about my mother, who has been in a hospital for the past two weeks. She doesn’t want to be there, but she can’t go home yet. This morning I’ve been thinking about how to help, eight hundred miles removed, and I remembered a time when I was in the hospital after my car accident (I was 18), and someone unexpectedly lifted my spirits.

Crabtree & EvelynThree weeks in bed will leave anyone a bit grumpy. One day my friend’s mother surprised me with a visit. She had a basin and several large plastic bags. “Let’s get you cleaned up,” she smiled. Arranging the bags underneath my shoulders and torso, and the basin under my head, she washed my hair and shaved my legs, then slathered on Crabtree and Evelyn body lotion. (The scent of gardenias still makes me smile.) Finally, she did my nails and makeup.

Thirty years later, I still remember her kindness.

And now, remembering that day, I know just how much it will help my own mother, to feel like her beautiful self.(For those who need a little bedside beauty, try this portable wash basin!) bed wash basin

If you’re feeling stressed out and grumpy, maybe it’s time for you to primp and pamper yourself a bit. Wear something beautiful — a pretty scarf, a soft sweater, a new pair of shoes. It won’t change the journey … but it might just put a spring in your step!

Photo Credit: “Always” by Stella Im Hultberg, from “Smashing” magazine’s “50 Beautiful Feminine Illustrations”.

Space Mountain Schadenfreude: Road Trip Ruminations

If you want the full Disney World experience, it’s probably best to avoid the park entirely between Christmas and New Years. Sure, Magic Kingdom has “extended hours” (8 a.m. to 1 a.m.), but that just means you have to deal with a bajillion loud, pushy people for a full 18 hours instead of the usual 14.

Fortunately, my favorite rides are not the most popular … I can sit on the teacups and ride through “It’s a Small World” for hours. See?

small world 1 small world 2 small world 3

But eventually I had to relent, and go with the rest of the family to stand in line at Space Mountain. An hour of nail-biting anticipation (thank goodness for the FastPass), for nine minutes of pitch-dark, neck wrenching fun.

As I said, we had gotten a FastPass, which in theory meant that we could return at the appointed time, bypassing the main line and moving to the front of the queue. But when we arrived at 10:15 (p.m.), the lady directed us to the end of the L-O-N-G line to the left. THAT was the FastPass line. I reached the end of the line just as a teenager with long, dark hair and an attitude to match arrived. With a smirk, she elbowed her way ahead of me.

Being a good Christian and all, I decided to ignore it. Then she called for her posse, who all jumped ahead of us. Eight of them. (I counted.) Then, her mother and grandmother (old enough to know better), who had a friend. Twelve extra bodies. By this time, my patience was depleting rapidly, but I finally decided not to make a scene. (Color me wussy.)

Then we got to the head of the line . . . and their entire group was turned away, because their FastPass had a later time on it. HAH! Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha. (What’s English for “schadenfreude”?)

Sometimes life is like that. When you rush and push ahead, sometimes you get sent back to the end of the line, bypassing those you’ve mistreated along the way. Not always . . . but sometimes, the universe teaches you a lesson.

Even at Disney World.

10 Ways to Spend a Snowday

Fun Fridays“SNOWDAY!!!”

Time for “Fun Friday” at home — with a little luck, maybe I can still get some work done this afternoon!

Idea #1: Snowman pancakes. Stack up three little dots, decorate with Oreo hat, blueberry eyes and buttons, and a cherry sliver mouth. Dust with powdered sugar. Bacon for scarf. Serve with cocoa.

Idea #2: Snow Dog. Dress kids warmly and send them outside to make piles of snowballs. Then toss them to the dog, to see how many she can catch.

When they need to thaw off, have them come inside for next activity: Study Island or …

Idea #3: Math Fact Bingo. Create bingo cards with numbers 1-100. Give older kids more than one card. Use mini marshmallows to keep score. When they start getting squirrely, send them back outside for a rousing game of …

Idea #4: Abominable Snowdog. Send them outside with a handful of hot dog bits (Maddy’s favorite treat) with instructions to give her one every time she correctly performs “Roll Over” in the snow. (If she won’t cooperate, urge them to demonstrate the trick for the dog.) Give them a towel to brush her off on the back porch before coming inside.

Had enough of the snow, little darlings? It’s almost lunchtime! Why not come back inside and…

Idea #5: Make Grandpa Sandwiches! Line the counter with a variety of breads, coldcuts and cheeses, sandwich spreads, veggies, and condiments. See who can make the greatest gastronomical monstrosity (I used to do this for my grandfather, who always ate every bite). Take pictures and award prizes (highest sandwich, most creative sandwich, prettiest sandwich, etc.).

Still feeling creative? Want to commemorate your day off? Why not…

Idea #6: Make snowflakes to decorate your bedroom ceiling, or turn into a card for grandparents or extended family. What’s that? You want to watch a movie? Surely. But how shall we decide which one? I know!

Idea #7: Sock Match Mania. Empty the overflowing sock bin in no time by announcing that the child who matches correctly the most socks in 20 minutes gets to pick the afternoon movie.

After the movie, it’s time for a little indoor fun …

Idea #8: Digital Treasure Hunt. Give each child (or pair of children, if you have a larger group) a digital camera or iPhone. They have 30 minutes to find and take pictures of . . .

  • Themselves as babies (from family scrapbook or wall hanging)
  • Strangest face (collaborative effort or selfie)
  • Favorite Christmas decoration
  • Favorite cookie recipe (from cookbook or recipe file)
  • Favorite vacation spot (screen shot or magazine)
  • Best headstand
  • Someone wearing Dad’s outdoor gear.
  • Best snow angel
  • Prettiest snow-covered tree
  • Best “Grandpa Sandwich” (a combination of every kind of cold cut, veggie, and condiment available in your kitchen, piled high between two slices of bread)

Idea #9: Make “Mommy Hugs.” Sandwich Ritz crackers with peanut butter. Melt shaved blocks of almond bark (or chocolate chips with a small square of shaved paraffin wax) in microwave; stir smooth. Dunk crackers in chocolate, and decorate with your choice of chopped walnuts  or pecans, coconut, or sprinkles. Lay on wax paper to set.

Idea #10: Story Time! Call or Skype Grandma or Grandpa, and have them tell their favorite snow-related memories of their own family. (This works best with a bit of behind-the-scenes coordination, so they have a story ready to tell.) Can’t think of one? Have them read one of the snowy adventures from Laura Ingalls’ Little House in the Big Woods.

Hope your snowday was as much fun as ours!

During the month of January, I’ve decided to take up the BlogHer NaBloPoMo “Stress” Challenge. Care to join me?

What’s your favorite way to spend a snow day?

Finding a Quiet Space

hiding boy If you’ve been following along the past week or so, we’ve been on a road trip this week, traveling from Philadelphia to Atlanta (where my parents live) to West Palm Beach (Craig’s mom’s house) with one husband, two kids, an Aussie shepherd, and our German nanny.

About twelve hours into the trip, I looked up from my laptop and discovered everyone on the right side of the van had found their own private space: Christopher had his “Think Geek” Dr. Who “snuggly” over his head, playing DS. Sarah had her bright red one over her head, coloring. And Michi had a jacket over her head, napping.

Now, they didn’t stay this way the whole ride. After about an hour, everyone popped out of their little “hole” and we played another rousing “Alphabet Game” (by far Q and Z are the hardest letters to find on billboards). But watching them enjoy their time “under cover,” I was reminded again why the road trip is such an apt metaphor for parenting. Sometimes, you just have to get away and find a private moment, no matter what it takes … or how silly it looks.

How do you create a little space for yourself when you need a break from family life?”

An Advent Adventure

snowy fieldThe kids leaped out of the car before it came to a complete standstill. I had been gone nearly a week, including an unexpected 48 hours holed up at my friend’s house. We spent the whole day inside, baking and overloading on an entire season of “The Paradise” on PBS. I had planned to spend the day traveling home. Instead I spent it curled up under a blanket, drinking tea and watching the snow swirl past my friend’s picture window.

On the way home, I thought about what a tremendous gift I had just received — a full 24 hours of absolute peace and quiet. I couldn’t bake, or wrap presents, or shop, or clean, or do any of the things I normally do on the weekend. All my plans went blowing on the proverbial wind. And it was wonderful.

Yesterday was Rose Sunday. In years past I’ve hosted a special tea the third Sunday of Advent, inviting a small group of girlfriends to take time out from the hustle-bustle of Christmas preparation. But this year, there would be no traditional chocolate poundcake. No beautiful table set with Royal Doulton china. No fussing or cleaning. Just a crackling wood stove and the aroma of Russian teacakes.

How’s your advent going? Have you had any unexpected adventures this week?




Father Flavors

familyFathers come in all shapes and flavors. Some are sweet — some are spicy or salty. Occasionally you might run into a sour puss. And if you’re REALLY lucky, you get one who manages to mix it up, like salty caramel dipped in strawberries. Yum.

In the 1950s, family life columnist Dorothy Nolte wrote a poem that continues to be a household classic . . .

If a child lives with criticism, he learns to condemn…

If a child lives with hostility, he learns to fight…

If a child lives with fear, he learns to be apprehensive…

If a child lives with pity, he learns to feel sorry for himself…

If a child lives with ridicule, he learns to be shy…

If a child lives with jealousy, he learns to feel guilt…


If a child lives with tolerance, he learns to be patient…

If a child lives with encouragement, he learns to be confident…

If a child lives with praise, he learns to be appreciative…

If a child lives with acceptance, he learns to love…

If a child lives with honesty, he learns what truth is…

If a child lives with fairness, he learns justice…

If a child lives with security, he learns to have faith in himself and those about him…

If a child lives with friendliness, he learns the world is a nice place in which to live.

All these things are true, of course … and yet I learned a few other things from my dad as well.

  • Silence can be an eloquent argument if it is combined with a good example.
  • Sometimes love is best spelled w-o-r-k.
  • Dogs are God’s way to teach us unconditional love.
  • A man’s home is his castle. Unless his wife is out of sorts. Then his castle’s in the basement.

Love you, Dad!