Traces

Today was my coworker’s last day before she heads off to a well-deserved retirement. The official countdown began a couple of months ago, building in anticipation until today. A day of great joy for my friend, but a bittersweet moment for the rest of us. Farewells are never easy.

This anticipation of saying goodbye to a friend started me thinking about the things left behind when relationships end or change. What impressions – or traces – are left by those who are no longer around?

In regards to my newly retired coworker, she leaves behind a legacy of kindness and compassion. She is one of the kindest people I know, and I will forever be grateful for the privilege of working alongside her even for such a short time.

There are others, of course, who have left traces of themselves behind. The obvious ones like parents, grandparents, siblings, aunts, uncles and cousins. I am who I am today because of the foundation these key people laid for my life.

There the less obvious ones. Like the girl in eighth grade who took a chance on the new girl, the painfully shy one who was probably a little bit odd. She showed me what it was to be a little wild. And though we’ve moved on, her friendship still means the world to me.

The college roommate who became a lifelong friend. She taught me what it means to share space with another. Her faith in me helped me to climb out of the self imposed shell I’d created for myself years before.

And still there were others…

The young woman from India who became a college roommate and cherished friend. She opened my tiny experience and showed me a global perspective. She is a far better friend than I ever deserved.

Or the girl in middle school born without arms who taught me that friends come in all shapes and sizes.

The high school English teacher who tried to get me to challenge myself, and reach beyond “just enough” for something greater. I wish I’d listened to him at the time.

The uncle who believed in me enough to tell me he would read my truly terrible first novel.

The list could go on. Employers, coworkers, classmates, teachers, neighbors, youth group leaders, pastors and Sunday School teachers.

For every relationship by birth or by choice, I am grateful. Every chance encounter that has left its mark on my life. Not all of the traces left are positive. But I’m grateful even for the negative ones, as they have hopefully left me a stronger person.

An Ordinary Day

I am grateful to have an ordinary day.

As a not so ordinary week comes to an end, I found myself looking forward to a bit of normalcy today. The kind of normalcy where I tell my children more than once to get themselves dressed. The normal morning where I nearly forget essentials like earrings or coffee. Or the normal work day morning routine where the boys squabble over who gets the first hug as I’m on my way out the door. Normal. Ordinary.

This week has been one of those roller coaster type rides I think most parents anticipate, but are never quite prepared for.

It started with registering my youngest son for kindergarten. Come September, all three of my children will now be enrolled all day in formal education. I’m sure most parents can relate to the storm of emotions this event can trigger. The bittersweet milestones as we watch our children grow up.

Now there are no more babies. No more cuddly, little boys who need their mama. No more being the center of the universe. Now their peers will become the most important influence in their lives. Have I given them all they need to move successfully into this next phase of their lives?

As if this emotional trauma wasn’t enough, I no sooner returned to work after completing this task when I got the call no parent wants to get from the school. “We have your son here in the office. There’s been a fall on the playground. Can you come right away?” Of course, I dropped everything—including my uneaten lunch—and went straight to the school.

I arrived to find emergency vehicles outside in the parking lot. The principal met me at the front door. Inside, was my middle son, his arm very obviously broken, scared and in pain, but holding it together pretty well, all things considered. We spent the next several hours in the ER waiting for x-rays, waiting for doctors, waiting for results of x-rays, and so on.

My son hadn’t had his lunch either, having fallen during recess which comes right before they eat. So, between the pain and discomfort of his injured arm, the pain of hunger and being denied food because he had to be sedated for treatment, and the pain of sheer boredom, it was a lengthy ordeal for both of us. One I hope I never have to repeat.

I’m a mother of three active little boys, and there’s always been a sense of inevitability about this sort of thing. I wondered when the first incident would come. Which of my three boys it would be.

The inevitable has happened. After three days of adjusting to life with one useable arm, of having to help my son dress himself or use the bathroom and of doing my best not to allow my other two children to feel neglected in the wake of their brother’s obvious need, I am exhausted. Both physically and emotionally.

Today, I am grateful for a normal, ordinary day. A day filled with ordinary things. Normal things such as reminding my children more than once to get dressed, forgetting essentials like earrings and the daily squabble over who gets the first hug as I’m on the way out the door for work.

Party Time!

One thing I love doing for my kids’ birthdays since the very beginning is to create a fun party centered around a theme. I probably go a little overboard with the cake, decorations, snacks and hand made invitations. I’ve done bug-themed parties and lion-themed parties. Dump trucks, monster trucks and fire trucks. There was Batman, the Avengers and the Flash. Most recently it was a Pokémon/Minecraft party.

When my boys were really little, I had freedom to choose the themes for their birthday parties. Now that they’re getting older and have distinct interests of their own, I let them choose the part theme. Then, I go searching online for ideas. I prefer to keep things simple, but I also want them to be fun.

The next birthday comes up in early March. The theme this time is pirates. Or, more important – treasure! My middle son is obsessed with tiny things—figures, cars, coins—that fit inside his fist. Sparkly things are especially attractive to him. A treasure hunt birthday party wasn’t a hard sell.

First I went looking for the perfect cake. There are some seriously talented bakers and decorators out there. I’m no professional cake decorator, but I love making cakes for my boys. I found treasure map cakes

and treasure chest cakes

and even this amazing pirate ship cake

Again, I’m no professional, but my children think I can work miracles. My version will not look nearly so cool as one of those. But I’ll have fun with it.

Before I can make the cake, and before I go all crazy with pirate-themed food and games, I’ve got to make the invitations. It will be a pirate’s treasure chest, complete with gold coins and sparkly gems. They might look a little bit like these invitations, but not nearly as adorable.

I’ve got some work to do. Sometimes I get a little carried away with the birthday parties. But it’s about having fun. And making memories for my children.

Gravitationally Unbound: H. G. Wells and the Discovery of Helium

I have been reading The First Men in the Moon, by H. G. Wells. A fascinating little tale first published in 1900-1901 about an inventor, Mr. Cavor, and a failed business man, Mr. Bedford, who travel to the moon by a rather strange vehicle. Mr. Cavor, has theorized that just as certain substances are opaque to heat and light, there must be a substance that is opaque to gravity.

Mr. Cavor manages to create this theoretical substance with an alloy of metals, and I’m not sure what all. Plus helium. A very interesting idea, to be sure. They make no small mess in the process of learning how to create this substance. Ultimately, however, they build a small ship that will take them into space.

This whole idea made me curious about when the element helium was discovered, and how new it was when Mr. Wells wrote this story. When I looked it up, I found that helium was first discovered in 1868 by a French astronomer who noticed a yellow line in the sun’s spectrum while studying an eclipse. It was later identified and named by an English astronomer. The element wasn’t found on Earth until 1895 by a Scottish chemist conducting experiments on a mineral called clevite.

According to an article on the JeffersonLab website, “Helium makes up about 0.0005% of the earth’s atmosphere. This trace amount of helium is not gravitationally bound to the earth and is constantly lost to space.”

It was this property of helium that no doubt intrigued H. G. Wells and sparked his curiosity. This story was first published between December 1900 and August 1901 as a serial novel in The Strand Magazine. The story then, was written in the years immediately following the discovery of helium.

I love that this story-written more than a hundred years ago and using what is now outdated science-could still inspire curiosity today. Now we live in a world where helium is used to entertain children at parties, and men really have been to the moon. And here I am, reading this antiquated little tale of adventure and learning something I didn’t know about my world.

I Heard the Bells

There is a poem written on December 25, 1864 by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. Originally, he titled the poem “Christmas Bells” and it was written during the American Civil War. It is more familiar these days as the Christmas carol “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day.”

This has always been one of my favorite Christmas carols. I love the music. I love the words. It is, quite simply, a beautiful message. I recently learned more about this song’s history, and how it was written during a time of deep, personal darkness. This only makes it more meaningful.

This year, in my church Christmas program, this carol is featured, and one night during a rehearsal, I was struck by the words of the song. I heard again these words,

And in despair I bowed my head;
“There is no peace on earth,” I said;
“For hate is strong,
and mocks the song
of peace on earth, good will to men!”

I thought of all the hateful words being thrown about every day in this country, and I realized this song is as relevant today as it was the day it was written.

We may not be engaged in a civil war, but our country is bitterly divided. There are forces at work in our nation that want to see us torn apart. We are divided along political lines, racial lines, gender lines. There is so much division, we can’t even seem to agree on what we disagree about.

We make a mockery of ourselves as we clamor loudly for peace and yet we sling ugly slurs at our neighbors. We accuse others of what we ourselves are guilty of, as if by yelling all the louder, we can erase hatred with hatred. Instead of helping, we hurt. Instead of unity, there is division. Instead of peace, we bring violence. Instead of love, there is only hate.

Where hate seems strong, let the bells ring louder. Where there seems only division, let the bells bring us back together. There can be peace on earth, but we must find it first within ourselves. Let the bells of peace and love ring out.

The bells are ringing. They ring out all the louder, spreading their ongoing message of hope and forgiveness, of peace and good will. Are you listening?

My Thoughts on the Election

The election is over, the decision has been made. Today we have a new decision to make. How will you choose to respond?

This morning I had to discipline my child for his inappropriate behavior. He was lashing out at me for a perceived injustice. I had to take away a special privilege as I tried to explain to him that each of us has the ability and the responsibility to choose our actions.

I’m not going to pretend I have any authority, or right, to reprimand anyone else for their behavior. I myself have been guilty of indulging in childish pettiness. But now, following this hotly debated and bitterly divisive election, we now have a new decision to make.

Today people are grieving. They are angry. They are frightened. Many may feel the need to lash out against a perceived injustice. It’s a natural human response to fear.

But I would ask you – us – to make a different choice. Regardless of how you feel about the election results, I urge patience instead of haste, caution where fear would take the lead, and above all respect and kindness instead of hatred.

Fear begets fear. Hatred gives birth to hatred. The only way to stop this vicious cycle is to respond in love, courage, kindness and respect. We cannot change others, only ourselves.

I didn’t write this with the intention of changing anyone’s mind. Rather I sat down to write this to change myself. To take charge of my own response to this election. There is much I am angry about. There is much I have been fearful over. Today, however, I have a new choice to make. And I choose to stand up and be brave. To show love. To honor and respect the office of the President of the United States.

Real change starts here. With me. In how I choose to respond. I choose to stand for truth. For love. For respect. For honesty. For courage.

Passion & Creativity: In Pursuit of Ingenuity

pas·sion·ate
adjective
showing or caused by strong feelings or a strong belief

There are a number of things I’m passionate about: my children, words, needle crafts, football, teddy bears, cheesecake. When I put this list together, a common theme emerged: creativity.

Growing up, imagination and creativity were encouraged in my home. There was a lot of reading. We played music. My sisters and I played with dolls, with cars, with building blocks. Once in school, I started drawing and writing. Along the way I picked up counted cross-stitch, taught myself crochet and discovered miniature teddy bears.

As a mother, creativity is no less important to me. I do everything I can to encourage my children to use their imagination. We read together, color together, build together. I take great delight in their creative endeavors. I make sure they see me read and write.spiderman_m

And I love the results. Their efforts at art make me happy. Their enthusiasm for library visits and reading books thrills me. Now they are learning to read and write for themselves, and I can’t wait to see where they go with that.

cre·a·tiv·i·ty
noun
the use of the imagination or original ideas, especially in the production of an artistic work
synonyms: inventiveness, imagination, innovation, originality, individuality, artistry, inspiration, vision, enterprise, initiative, resourcefulness

I love this list of synonyms for creativity. Innovation, individuality, inventiveness, vision. Creativity isn’t all about art. There is creativity in science and engineering as well. I’m sure I’m not the only parent with a love/hate relationship with Legos. Incredibly frustrating to maintain and the basis of any number of conflicts, they nevertheless provide hours of creative play. I am always impressed with the ingenious structures my boys come up with.

enterprise_eSo yes, I am passionate about pursuing creativity. I’ll continue to pursue it for myself with my writing. And, perhaps more importantly, I will encourage the pursuit of creativity in my children, whatever form it takes for them.

I think Albert Einstein has the right of it…

Imagination is more important than knowledge. For while knowledge defines all we currently know and understand, imagination points to all we might yet discover and create.
– Albert Einstein

A Rare Day

This morning I got to wake up without the aid of an alarm clock or kids. The children finally know that they’ll have to ask their daddy for help with the Xbox – mommy has remained deliberately ignorant of this technology.

I spent a good hour reading various blogs. It was nice to catch up on some of this reading I don’t always have the time to do on a week day. In my short experience in the blogging world, I’ve come across some great writers and I wish I had more time to spend reading.

Then, I got to sit down with a cup of coffee and actually consume the entire thing without interruption before it went cold. This is a rare treat, and I took full advantage. I read my book and very nearly finished it.

My big errand for the day was taking my youngest son to pick out his backpack. He starts preschool this week. He was pretty excited about the backpack and wanted to put it on right away.

To finish my day, I joined some fellow writers for our twice-monthly writing group. We meet at a coffee shop and just write. We’re working on various projects from personal blogs to novels of nearly all genres. It’s a great, productive atmosphere where I can usually accomplish a fairly decent amount of work.

This was a good day. A rare day in which I was able to be quite lazy. A chance to recharge and take a step back from all the daily responsibilities of being a mom. I may regret it tomorrow when I have to do all the laundry I didn’t do today, but for now, I will enjoy the moment.

Miniature Love

My grandmother was a pretty amazing lady. And famous within her circles for some things, like cinnamon rolls, amazing pie crusts and peanut brittle. Her home was always filled with yummy smells from the kitchen.

I didn’t manage to get half her skills with cooking or baking. I can’t make cinnamon rolls or a pie crust to save my life, and my house never has that crazy delicious smell of a roast in the oven. But I can make a decent cheesecake.

She also kept a beautiful and tidy flower bed filled with happy colors, and houseplants thrived under her care. I on the other hand, couldn’t keep a cactus alive in a desert. And my yard? Well, let’s just say I’m happy to be able to keep the dandelions trimmed.

There is one thing, however, that I do share with my grandmother. I like to think I inherited my love of teddy bears from my grandmother. She had a remarkable collection of the cuddly little critters. She would shift them around throughout the year, something for every season and every occasion.

I’ve collected teddy bears as well for many years, nearly as long as I can remember. I’d venture to say my collection might even rival my grandmother’s. I have some bears that once belonged to her, and I cherish them especially.

One other thing I think I shared with my grandmother. She had a love for hand crafts. Quilting, sewing, fun little crafty projects. She gave me my first embroidery and cross-stitch kits, sparking a lifelong love for needle crafts.

MiniBear1Several years ago these two interests merged when I discovered a book on how to make miniature teddy bears. I began collecting plush fabrics – velvets, felts, scraps in all colors. I went into a bit of a frenzy creating these adorable little minis.

I haven’t created any new teddy bears in the last several years, not since I got married, moved to a new city and started a family. I still have a rather extensive collection of fuzzy fabric, and I do hope to one day begin turning it again into tiny teddy bears.

American Privilege and the Global Experience

As Americans we are not encouraged to be globally minded. We are taught in school how America is such an important nation in the world, and how great we are as a country because of our unique democratic government. But are we truly as great as we claim?

I had the privilege during my university years of becoming friends with a woman from India. Having attended a British boarding school in India during her early years, her English was probably better than mine. Besides English, she could speak at least two Indian languages and perhaps others as well. The same age as me, she had already traveled to a number of countries before coming to the United States to attend university.

My own experience to that point was so vastly different. Born and raised an American citizen, fifth generation born in my home state, I was taught to believe I was privileged beyond that of other people living in other countries. I had never once stepped foot outside my own country before I went to college. Not for lack of interest necessarily, but certainly a lack of means. And I had experienced only a tiny fraction of my own country even, having been to only four of the fifty states.

I spoke only English. In my small home town, I had the opportunity to learn to speak French, and I chose not to do so. In college I started to learn Spanish, though I never came near to reaching fluency.

I remember there being a number of foreign exchange students in my high school, though regrettably, I never got to know any of them very well. It seems to me also, that this program was presented as a great opportunity for foreign students to come and experience the greatness of America. I don’t remember it being presented as an opportunity for country-bound citizens like myself to experience the richness of other cultures.

During my university years I did manage to step across the border once into Canada, and on another occasion into Mexico. I visited another three western states, broadening my domestic experience to an entire tenth of my nation. I had the privilege to travel to Nicaragua with some of my peers on a mission trip where I was just another ignorant white American who believed I was there to make life better for those less fortunate.

Curious now as to whether my experience was unique due to my self-imposed “shyness” as a child? Or was it a result of being part of the American middle-class, having the means to get by, but not enough for things like international travel? Or is it that the American people are actively discouraged from traveling abroad? I decided a little investigating was in order.

I learned that the United States lands second on the Top 10 Countries That Travel The Most. And not just once, but on this list as well. However, Americans are far more likely to travel within our own country than travel abroad, preferring “to explore their own country more than understanding the world outside.”

Our employment practices discourage travel. I found that “the United States is the only nation among advanced economies that does not provide a legal guarantee of paid leave.” Passports are expensive to obtain. Travel abroad is considered dangerous. We are cautioned against theft, bad water, violence and disease.

Then I ran across this great article on why Americans don’t travel internationally, by Natasha Alden, which seemed to confirm much of what I was already thinking. The one reason given by the author I find the most tragic is that Americans are “just plain old ignorant.” She goes on to say:

There is a serious lack of information about the world affairs in the United States. We seem to be in an isolated bubble, where Americans are afraid of the unknown, or even worse, just don’t care.

We claim greatness for our nation. But the only ones listening to our claims are other Americans. How great can our country be if we never encourage our children to leave it? To go and experience the realities of other world views?

I believe the United States is a great country. But not the only great country. I regret my own lack of global experiences, and I hope to encourage more curiosity about the world beyond our borders in my own children.

What is your global experience? I’d love to hear your thoughts.