Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Just like Jo March

...my mind is rumpled today. I had an argument (a Real Live (tm) Argument) with one of my best friends today, and walked away feeling like I am a Rotten Parent (tm) for daring to make choices that don't put my teenager's social needs first on my list of priorities. And not to mention that I'm blaming everyone else for my daughter's feelings and I should take full responsibility for them and go even further beyond the call of duty to make her social life perfect.

That's probably not exactly what she said, but mind, that's how I said I felt at the end of the conversation. Looking back on it honestly, she had some good feedback mixed in there, but (Karen, are you listening?), about 30 minutes into the conversation, in which I kept getting more and more frustrated because she wasn't getting what I was saying at all, for a variety of reason, I yelled, "I don't want to hear your solutions! I don't want to hear your scenarios! What I need from you as a friend is for you listen to my pain and to the fact that my kid is hurting and to just validate that!"

And then she didn't. She said some other things that really hurt my feelings even more and were totally off target IMO, and I hugged her and said I loved her, and we moved on. Man, I'm sorry for ever doing that to my own friends. It sucks. As I get better at really listening, it is really hard when I'm not listened to. Understandable, but harder.

This all has to do with inclusion, this argument. We move in a small homeschooling community, with small circles that often intersect and shift and move, and my daughter is in between circles right now, because there has been a shift from all-age activities that are family-inclusive, to "teen" activities with age cut-offs (that are a year older than she is) and she feeling intentionally excluded and is hurt. There are a bunch of reasons I can think of (that are all UNintentional) why this is happening, but it doesn't matter. It hurts.

And I'm in a place with big kids and little kids, where I stretch myself and my littles very thin at times in order to make sure my olders get to have fun and participate in enriching activities. I feel like my friend told me that I wasn't stretching enough and it hit every button for me in terms of how mothers of young children are not well supported. It also felt like she felt like we were being excluded because we choose to live 45 minutes away in order to be away from the city and work toward more sustainable living (the only other place we could afford to buy a house is IN the city, an environment that sucked the soul out of me).

It's like she was holding on to resentments about some of my choices about parenting, homeschooling, inclusion and lifestyle, and dumped them all on me in one fell swoop.

So my mind is rumpled. And my daughter is still hurting. I'm sad and don't understand why this shift has happened in the kids' friendships. What I really don't understand is that it seems to be spearheaded by the parents, not by the kids, who seem to be just fine with including everyone for most things. Everyone always raves about how likable, fun, sweet and polite my daughter is - so why can't the adults involved see how their hangups about ageism are hurting her (and others)?

At least E doesn't seem to think I'm the culprit ;). She loves where we live - and she loves her friends. She loves visiting - and she would love to have more visitors. She loves her siblings - and she loves some big kid time. She loves kids of all ages - and she loves adults of all ages. She is as stymied as I am.

Anyway, enough. I'm just trying to find some order in all these questions, but I think I'll just have to wait and think, and plan more one one one get togethers rather than the group events we usually attend (for family unity and sanity sake). I can't wait till summer. We're going to hunker down and garden and swim and read and be together. So there.

And I'm going to work really hard at being a better listener, and to forgive my friend for not getting me, and to try to understand her intentions, and to just try to be more inclusive myself and maybe it will be a fad that will catch on!

Sunday, March 29, 2009


My daughter just came home with a bass guitar. She already knows how to play Sunny Came Home, Smoke in the Water, and a couple more things. Her friend says she looks "kick-ass."

She also went to see Once Upon a Mattress today, which her friends were in. She said it was a riot.

She kills me. My husband is laughing because yet another instrument with a huge clunky case is now in my house. But at least they like music and want to learn.

Today was massive cleaning downstairs...it's good to have the girls home and to just sit down. Except I have to get the little ones jammies.

Saturday, March 28, 2009


I was just getting to a place where I had a good routine, had embraced being present in day to day parenting and home care...and just like a baby's naptime, everything changed.

Now I am trying to adjust to working again, preparing for outdoor activities as the weather warms up, and scaling back our day to day activities to make life more manageable (much to the detriment of my daughters' social life, apparently).

Even without enough work to sustain us, Tom has been out looking at possible projects, networking, talking to people, etc., so I haven't had much of a break from the day to day childrearing stuff, even since starting work. After the first two weeks, I really needed to get energized.

It just so happens that the 4th week of each month has two mom-recharging activities that I never make it to, but this month, I got to go to both. Thursday night was a homeschool mom meeting and last night was UU Mom's night out. Both were wonderful times of community, shared resources and struggles, and energizing.

Well, and dinner out included marguaritas. You can't beat that!

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Living Big

Someone told me today that I live life big! I like that. I have been having a rough time since January. Last week I started back to work, am finishing up Wellspring, and am taking a UU Intro class with my husband (so he'll go). It's been 4 nights since we've been home for bedtime; the littles have fallen asleep in the car on the way home.

I'm exhausted. But I've spent many hours at church, doing things that fill me up, when most of the rest of my life is draining. Except for the kids, who have just been wonderful during a difficult week.

Being back at work at the RE program is awesome. I love it. But damn, I'm tired!

So a bit more reading and then to bed. Blessed be, all. And live big! And boldly!

Friday, March 20, 2009


I've been thinking about forgiveness a lot lately because it's what we're talking about at Wellspring next week. I've always thought a lot about it though, because I had a childhood memorable for many rotten things, and I spent a lot of years angry.

I think that forgiveness has always been a rather undefinable word for me - I've never been quite sure what it means to me, but as I did one of the assigned readings (which I had a lot of issues with, by the way), it occurred to me that it's really a mindset. Forgiveness has a lot to do with:

1. Assumption. If we assume we know someone else's intention, we're already setting ourselves up for a future problem. Even if someone is horrible to us, we don't have any idea what in their history has led them to make the choices they are making in their relationship to us. That doesn't negate their responsibility for making those choices, but it does give one pause for thought about compassion and the idea that we can only really know such a small part of any story - our part of it.

2. The way that we self-identify as part of our moment by moment stories has a huge part to play in how, or whether we "forgive" someone. Let me pause for a moment to say that I think that for me, forgiveness is really about letting go, moving on - it doesn't have to absolve anyone of guilt, it doesn't require the other person to apologie - it's all about how we identify ourselves in the story. If we're a victim, if we're angry, if we are hurt - those are all valid reactions in the moment of a story, but we don't have to hold on to those roles forever. We can move past who we were in that moment, and refuse to identify ourselves in ways that continue to hurt us.

Outside of thinking about forgiveness in the context of Wellspring, I've been struck by the stories about AIG employees who are the focus of a lot of (justifiable, in some cases) anger.

It frightens me to think that these people need security to protect themselves against potential death threats. They are being targeted by neighbors and strangers alike. Then again, I share Jay Leno's fear about the tax that Congress is imposing on those bonuses - does this mean that the government can just target someone and do something like that? It sounded to me like Obama didn't really approve, but he didn't make a strong statement one way or the other.

Remember, we only know what the media tells us about these people - that is even less than a little part of the story - and for those making death threats, they're not even in the AIG story.

A lot to think about.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Another piece of the journey

I had a very busy day today. I started back to work as the RE Assistant/Admin. at church (did I mention this? I'm fried this week). So today, I worked mid-day so I could have my meeting with the NERSCC person from my district - the final reference I needed to move from Applicant to Aspirant.

I was a nervous wreck all morning, but was so busy at work that I didn't have time to think about it. When I went in to meet with him, I felt like everything I was saying was stupid, trite, and perhaps mentally ill. Thankfully, I must not have seemed as mentally ill as I was feeling, and I somehow managed to convey the overwhelming desire that my spirit as to serve, because I got some really great feedback about my upcoming seminary years (that Iwish I could put into practice more) and he didn't feel there were any flags, and he basically said, "You GO girl!"

So after being incredibly intimidated by him (a rare occurrence for me) for the first hour, the last half hour was really great and a much more authentic discussion (for me at least) about transformation and his sense of what was to come for me.

I have been feeling really stuck lately and not able to access much in the way of spiritual peace, and I have to say, that I got right back in the groove after this; I must have been way more anxious than I realized.

I ran to pick up the kids (my baby's first real day at a sitter, albeit my best friend!) and shoved them all in the car to go to Nana's for the next leg of the day (at 5 p.m. no less). We ran over there, ate dinner, and Tom and I drove back to church (geez, it really is feeling like home lately), to attend the first Starting Points class with co-minister Rev. Scott Tayler.

I knew that Tom wasn't all that enthused about going (to say the least), but he went. And it was way better than he thought it would be ;). It was really fun, and we did an exercise about where you are in your beliefs about religion that surprised me at one point, and also made me realized how much I have changed/transformed in the last 10 years.

It was really a great class, and I can't wait to go again next week! And the kids were good for Nana, and were jammied and ready to get in the car when I got back, so everyone is asleep now and I should be too.

On the way home, Emma (13) and I had a really great conversation about UUism and whether our faith was meeting her spiritual needs, and I see that I need to be helping her with her seeking and not just relying on RE. She might get involved with the Cabaret performance and wants to find a Buddhist study group to go to at church, or maybe visit the local Zen center. How exciting!

Sunday, March 15, 2009

New Growth

Spring, glorious spring. "It's a beautiful morning!Now mom, you sing 'It's a beautiful day!'" says Jude on the way to church this morning.

Today was a wonderful, incredible tease. The kids were antsy, and I had the best morning spiritual practice in a while. Still not as focused as I have been, but despite my broken toe, I forged onward, further than Jake and I have walked for awhile. I could feel something different about the sun rising behind my back; about the quality of the light. We heard and saw red-winged blackbirds, and I've seen some amazing red tailed hawks lately. The snow geese seem to be done with their migration but I'm still seeing scads of Canadian geese every morning.

The littles and I headed off to church; I was teaching Sunday School today, which was nice, but I heard a tantalizing snippet of the sermon when I stepped out for a moment; I will definitely be listening to the podcast when it's uploaded. Something about abortion...

Then we went to pick up our new doggie. We are trying out a little beagle mix. She is feisty, fat, and four. She fits right in! (A four year old, four kids...feisty...not so much with fat). So far so good. Jake is kind of pestering her but she's got no patience for his immaturity and promptly stole his bed. I kicked her out of it of course, and he pulled his blankets around him and is snuggled in now. The kids adore her (all but my oldest, who doesn't seem to much care).

We spent some time outside raking and cleaning up the yard, since it was so warm and lovely. I'm itching to clean out our studio and make it usable space for crafts and art work, but that's going to take some trips to the dump and Goodwill. I did get the front yard raked and Tom pruned some of the apple tree, and chopped some wood. I think we'll just make it through the cold weather with what we have.

We had a nice visit with my ex, his wife and his dad . We ordered pizza and hung out; he worked on the kids' computer (the ex, that is), and his wife and I laughed at his overprotectiveness of the girls around boys. It was fun!

unfortunately, right before the arrived, I started experiencing cold symptoms and them Emma started up. Perfect timing, since I haven't been sick all winter and I start back as RE Assistant at First U tomorrow morning. Hopefully I will feel less foggy in the morning.

Anyway, like the crocuses and daffodils that are peeking up, I feel primed for new growth; ready to move forward into a new phase of my life (seminary) and immerse myself. Once this head cold goes away!

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

A momentous day

Today is my oldest daughter's birthday. She is 13, the beginning of the magical teen years.

We are making a cake, an cheesy potato casserole and grilled ribs and artichokes for dinner. We are spending the day with friends and at home, and are enjoying our regular day off! I'm doing her chores for her today.

She is making her own chocolate cake too!

Emma is a delightful young woman, and I am very much looking forward to the teen years. She still likes to hang out and chat with me, cook together, and talk about religion and politics. I challenge her not to make assumptions out of the black and white place of adolescence, and to think and write critically, and she tolerates me and tries hard.

She loves little kids and is a fabulous babysitter. She is thoughtful an empathic and tends to stand up for the underdog. She's an unabashed Obama supporter and is not refusing to say the Pledge of Allegiance now that President Bush is out of office.

She's excited to start community college next year and wants to be a cardiac surgeon. She's a little geeky (on purpose) and pretty and smart and I feel like the luckiest mom in the world to have these four wonderful souls in my life.

She was my hardest birth - 25.5 hours of labor and she was the smallest of them all at 5 1/2 lbs. Her online icon is now "I'm not short, I'm just unusually not tall." Like her mom, she's a big personality in a small package, and is kinder and less edgy than me. Her dad always said that she was me with tools (the tools I didn't get as a child). She used to say she wanted to build a house in the backyard so she could wave into my kitchen window from her kitchen window. She's expanded her horizons a bit now, but still wants to stay close to home. She likes an adventure, but likes to come home again at the end of it.

She's not afraid to stand up for herself, but she's kind in the way she does it.

My son said today, "I can't wait for my 5th birthday!" I jokingly told him that then I could send him to school. He replied, "No, five is still very little!" And he's right. He's still little, and especially so compared to Emma.

I love 13. I love the teen years, and I'm excited to share the rest of them with her (and the rest of the kids as they come through them).

Monday, March 9, 2009

Being poor is draining my spiritual bank

Because my husband is self-employed, and my ex-husband works out of state, the kids (and my husband and I) have qualified for state-funded insurance for a number of years.

Even when I worked at Xerox as a contractor, the insurance was so expensive through the agency that Tom and I went without for over a year. Going through the process is a soul-sucking experience. In the last county we lived in, the social workers were in a very urban area, and were impossible to work with. I ended up working with the Commissioner's Office after I was unable to get my caseworker switched. She always had a full voicemail, the voicemail system said it would route you to an operator but didn't, and was an infinite loop of bullshit. When I did manage to get her on the phone, she was extraordinarily rude, demeaning and treated me like trash.

I was never actually able to get her supervisor on the phone, despite leaving many, many messages. The paperwork was confusing (seemingly on purpose), and I honestly don't know how people with literacy problems or lacking in education were able to navigate the system at all (maybe they don't).

When we moved to our new house, we were in a different county, and it was a night and day experience. The people at social services are nice, causing me to break down in cry (I used to cry out of frustration, not anymore).

This year we made so little that all the kids qualified for Medicaid. I had to go to a facilitated enrollment center to do the paperwork. Lori was nice enough, but not really personable. She didn't offer to shake my hand, didn't offer me a seat, and didn't introduce me to the woman she was training. She was polite, but it was clear that I was a just a number, just an appointment to get through. I'm well-organized, so these things go smoothly, but when they tell me that, it seems patronizing - they often make comments that put down the other people who come in, who aren't so organized.

On my drive home, I found myself wondering why people like Lori are doing the job they are in. There are certainly jobs that I've had that I haven't been passionate about, but I have a really strong work ethic, and always go beyond the call of duty (or move on, if it's that crappy of a job!). Any job or volunteer position that I've had where I was in human services, or working directly with people in a support role has been something I would not define as ministry. Not the religious kind, but work that I had a personal passion for and could focus on each individual person as just that - a real person, with real needs, a real story. They were never just a number to me. There were people that were difficult to work with, but often, that was why they were there -because they were lacking tools and resources to navigate our complicated world.

Our US culture is so very classist - it's hard to even admit to being poor. My church community really has no idea how close to the bone we live. And it's not for lack of trying or hard work. When I go to the social services office, it depletes my spirit. People are sad, and brisk and sometimes say hurtful things. There are people that are lazy or take advantage, but there are also a lot of people who just need help because of circumstances created by our culture.

I just have to wonder how people end up in these jobs if it's not for caring about helping those who are struggling. I can't imagine any other reason for doing it; it can't be an easy job to do.

This train of thought is connected to the conversation over at The Journey. (see comments there for more). I know that I have a hard time admitting that I'm no longer middle class. We have a good life. We have more than most of the world; but in this culture, in our country, we are barely making ends meet (and aren't, most months). Despite all that, I intend to go to seminary this fall, because I believe that my calling is part of the big picture. We will never be wealthy (unless we win the Lotto!) but we will be OK in the long run.

The downturning economy is going to make a lot of people look at their preconceptions about wealth and what they prioritize in their lives. I wonder if that will help the climate around classism change at all? Because I grew up in a college town, I have a lot of educational privilege that serves me well as a UU; my husband not so much. He's on a church strike right now and has been before, often because he feels that as a faith, we look like rich surburbanites "empowering" poor urban dwellers. The WAY we walk the walk is still hurtful in the same way that those burnt out social workers can be hurtful to the shy soul within.

I come back again to radical hospitality. Do we really make all seekers feel welcome? No. Are all seekers going to find what they want at a UU church? No. But just because they don't fit our normal expectations for "class" or politics, we shouldn't be making them feel unwelcome. We spend a lot of time watching our language in LGBT issues and race issues. We need to broaden that hospitality to class issues.

And a personal annoyance; our ushers, parking lot attendants, and greeters are all getting extraordinarily lazy about being hospitable. I haven't had one greeter or usher actually greet me in weeks unless I make a point of making eye contact and greeting them first. And many of them *know* me! How does this feel to the newcomer? It is to make me bang my head against the wall.

Saturday, March 7, 2009


I am doing this starting in May. I really see working with adolescents as a huge part of my personal ministry and I know that I will gain so much wonderful experience from this opportunity.

I can't wait to mentor again and I hope that I can connect this with my seminary experience over the next several years.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Everyday Drama

Lucy just ran in here with a video, wailing "we already watching thiiiis one!" Oh, the drama.

We've been listening to Mrs. PiggleWiggle on tape though, and it seems to help Jude put it all in perspective. Now, I merely have to pick up my phone and pretend to call Mrs. PiggleWiggle, and everything sorts itself out magically.

Yesterday was filled with painful drama. Emma came home from Florida (yay!) and promptly fell up the stairs with her suitcase and smashed her knee.

I came in and dropped Soren's music stand on my toe and am pretty sure I fractured it. I'm limping around quite a bit and had a very short walk with the dog this morning.

My husband missed an entire day of work for an emergency tooth extraction.

Nothing insurmountable, just frustrating.

Good news is I finished my sermon, and it's sunny and a bit warmer. The geese are doing their O'Hare impersonation, which is fun, and Jakob is having a doggy playdate today.

I'm obssessed with the idea of getting another dog before he gets much older (I think this is stand-in for having another baby ), and I keep visiting dogs. My husband is very tolerant of me and even has accepted the idea of trialing chickens next month, for eggs and meat. I'd like a goat too, but I think he'll draw the line there ;).

Monday, March 2, 2009

Random Life Updates

In no particular order:

1. one of the cats we adopted peed in my tub today. He also pukes a lot and sheds globs of hair. He is old and is dying. He has a lot of spunk left in him though, as I am unable to restrain him enough to get hairball medicine into him daily. As soon as it warms up, his butt is going outside.

2. The other cat discovered the cockatiel's existence, and has his first exposure to the great outdoors at our house today. It went well, as he didn't kill our other old and arthritic cat (who showed him his place immediately), and came right back inside when we got home (I shoved him out so he wouldn't kill the bird while we were gone). Now to see if he's a decent mouser or not.

3. The dog has massive spring fever. He needs a friend to run around with because he's being all infantile and needy and I already have two young children who sit on me all the time.

4. My oldest child will be home in 48 hours. I can NOT wait. I miss her. And another weird thing is that we're on a Yahoo list together now. How 21st century!

5. My husband and I have been trying to watch last week's Heroes episode since LAST week. One of us falls asleep every night and we still haven't watched it. He's snoring next to me right now. Soon we'll have to watch two, and then what will we do?

6. I'm going back to work at First Unitarian as the RE Assistant (Administrator?) again. Sadly, the woman that replaced me has to resign for personal reasons, and Jan asked me to fill in the rest of the year. Yay! I loved that job and am excited to go back to it. I start in two weeks. By then, I might know if I've landed the other job that I really want, that is more permenant, and very community-oriented, in a 21st century kind of way. Good thoughts are welcome, as it would be from home and compatible with homeschooling!

7. I finished my sermon draft and got Very Helpful feedback from a fellow seminarian. I've submitted my thoughts for the order of service as well. Nervewracking and exciting. I can NOT wait to start school again. I think that my winter malaise is passing, despite the bitterl cold weather we're having here. It's a good thing, because I gained 7 lbs. last month, which is quite unlike me.

8. My 10 year old daughter is in a talent show AND giving an oral presentation for 4H this week. I'm not nervous for her at all, because she's a pro. I hope to get a video of everything. She's playing violin, and then doing karaoke Taylor Swift with her best friend for the talent show. The presentation is on gymnastics, and she has a meet the next day, and another one next weekend. She will be exhausted before spring comes!

9. Who the heck changed Daylight Savings Time to next weekend? And why? I'm not ready. Isn't it like 8 months long now?

Coming Clean at Church

The Alban Institute - 2009-03-02 Ministry in Hard Times

This article really resonates with me, and I bet with a bunch of other people, especially in UU churches.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

A Good Sunday

As my son pointed out on the way to church this morning, it was a Good Sun Day as well. The sun shone all day, which was lovely, since it was barely above 10F. Welcome to March (coming in like the proverbial lion).

It was a church-ful kind of day. My friend Sarah, taught me for today (and brought her very adorable, and sleeping newborn to squee over) so that I could hear our intern, Erin Gingrich preach. I'm so glad that I got to go! It was a lovely sermon that touched my heart - about "standing in the flow," the flow being money and more generally, opportunity. How do we give?

I have become a giver. It has not so much to do with money, although in the end, everything does, but more to do with time, and intention. I do give money to my church as a member, and in the collection basket. I give time to my community on boards and editing newsletters. This spring I'll join a mentoring program for girls. I give in simple ways, like turning clothes right side out as I fold the laundry. By moving my husband's van so he doesn't have to go out in the cold to do it. By having healthy snacks and clean water bottles in the car for my little kids when we go to town. By caring for my daughters' pets when they're at their dad's house (and doing the harder parts of those jobs that they like to ignore).

I give by calling a friend who has a sick relative, to check in. By reaching out to someone I've never liked very much because they are having a rough time and I can see that they need a hug. I give by adopting a homeless cat; by driving really slow on my street at night so I don't hit any of the woodland creatures that are nocturnal.

I give by making every minute that I can remember to, intentional. And you know what? I think that karma is real. What you put out to the universe comes back. Erin says that there's no such thing as standing on the bank of that river of money. That we're all in the flow. That if are all more intentional (and don't hoard what we don't need), there is enough. Hmmm...I think Erin's a socialist ;).

Anyway, it was an interesting concept, and she did a great job.

Soren had a good OWL class, by all accounts. And Lucy stayed with Jude (she's an honorary 4 year old at church), and melted the teacher's heart by telling Jude that she loved him (love you too, he says).

Now I'm off to do some Wellspring journaling. I've been reading a lot, and thinking about the sermon I'm not writing about community. I need to find some good material and readings, and better get to it this week.