Saturday, December 19, 2015

Sitting In The Weird, With Brene Brown's Cool-aid, Re-Inventing Every Year.

A friend who recently became a parent asked me some questions the other day:

As Christmas approaches, we are having discussions about what to do about Santa. 
I don't love the idea of him. Though, I do love the idea of St. Nicholas. I don't want to squelch magic and imagination in my kid, and I don't want him to feel left out. I also don't ever want to lie to him and hate the idea of good=presents, bad=nothing. There's also the whole point of privilege of Santa and children whom he doesn't visit because they are poor...what do you do in order to help yourselves think through this process. Care to share?

So I wrote her back:

I am writing you right now.
And I am distracted by how long it took me to reply to this as I have thought of it every day and felt Not Ready. I am in the grips of "doing it all wrong" so to have you ask me specifics feels particularly vulnerable and on point. I do not enjoy the hype of Christmas as much as I do not enjoy Halloween.
For the first years with Henry and Svea I could blame it on living in Indiana since we traveled during the holidays and "reindeer food" and "Christmas Morning" just looked different. Then we joined a church and Christmas looked like "why is Daddy never home". Ouch. Then I started enjoying the Advent preparation and Xmas Eve services which meant negotiating with tired children and just throwing the towel in at the end of the night, hoping to stay up long enough to tell Brian I was proud of him.
This year, I have no idea what it will look like.
My Henry (11yo) loves Target. He loves shopping. He is methodical and meticulous. When he walks into Target, he is overcome with the smell of newness. This is how we taught him about Greed. Greed is how you feel when you enter Target and want to live there.
At this point, today, I am trying to teach Henry how to personify Christmas (as Santa, St. Nicholas, Etc.). I want him to be SO EXCITED about Jesus' birth that he wants to buy gifts for OTHER PEOPLE. Which is totally scandalous for a greedy 11yo. He will tell me I am so weird and to please not walk next to him and why am I wearing black pants that are normal.
Svea, my 10yo, has made presents for everyone and wrapped them while singing lullabies into the process and does not understand the concept of greed. She's using her artwork from school as gifts and recycling materials for wrapping paper...and hoping for more time watching tweeny shows on Disney Channel.
Corinne, 5yo, thinks Christmas is about performing with microphones and costumes and altars and stages and why is everyone NOT looking at her?????

(do you see why I struggle with "doing it all wrong"?)
All I have to say to you, dear friend, is that I have no idea. I re-invent every year based on sleep deprivation, nutrition, anger, love, tradition, what I need to "get over" personally and what I need to ask those around me to "get over." 
In the meantime - I want you to hear this - YOU CAN DO THIS AND ONLY YOU KNOW HOW.
Is this ever so unhelpful?

And she wrote me back:
I appreciate your taking the time to answer me, though, despite your feelings of doing it all wrong and embracing your vulnerability. I appreciate your vulnerability more than you know. Maybe I've drunk too much of the Brene Brown cool-aid, but I continue to believe it is the only way we can truly CONNECT to one another.
“Vulnerability is the birthplace of love, belonging, joy, courage, empathy, and creativity. It is the source of hope, empathy, accountability, and authenticity. If we want greater clarity in our purpose or deeper and more meaningful spiritual lives, vulnerability is the path.” - So says Brene. I think I agree.
I do not enjoy Christmas. Hence, my crisis of not wanting to influence my son with such feelings unnecessarily. (Though, I'm aware he is too young for that this year. He is merely content to play with an empty water jug, look at himself in the mirror, and make ridiculous pterodactyl noises). I do not enjoy obligatory gift giving (though, I love giving gifts when I am not expected to do so). I do not enjoy pressure of getting everyone together because WE JUST HAVE TO (though, I do enjoy stress free quality time with those I hold dear and even those I don't yet).
In my own vulnerability, I think my questions about Christmas stem from larger questions of purpose and meaning that are brought on from many different facets of this phase of life. I found this article about why Krista Tippett is not doing Christmas this year and it was helpful.
So, in the meantime while I sit in the weird, I find the prospect of bread baking and potential pottery classes grounding.
Peace, love, and advent blessings (or something).

I read the Krista Tippett article and love her final paragraph:
As I said, we need each other. And that impulse, surely, is deep in the original heart even of the most secular things like Santa Claus and surrounding your home with lights: examining what we are to each other and experiencing that, sometimes when we do this, something transcendent happens.

For now, for today, I will "examine what we are to each other" and stay present with that...and believe that something transcendent will the form of clarity and connection and the crazy story of a baby in a manger...

Tuesday, December 08, 2015

DNR - JTI: Take 4

Dear Negative Internal Chatter, 
I get it, the double chin is here to stay and the chin hairs are stout.
Why do you have to be so LOUD? You should be nicer already, extend some grace or something.
Do Not Respond - Just Take It.

Dear Precious Middle Child, 
Though your ears turn to stone when I begin to speak, and your nose assumes a permanent stank-smell position, I still love you. You are partially screwed because I am a female middle child too and I 50% feel sorry for you and 50% require you to suck it up. Did I mention I love you so much I text you in my mind when you are at school all day? 
BTW, that stank smell is your armpits - wear deodorant already.
Do Not Respond - Just Take It.

Dear New Kittens, 
When you bat at the Christmas ornaments, they will fall. Every. Single. Time. 
It's called Gravity. 
And I bought a Christmas Tree Smelly Candle to combat the aroma of the 17 litter boxes you now fill...and I scoop. But when you purr on my neck and cuddle on my arm and make muffins on my lap, I am smitten, weird kittens.
Do Not Respond - Just Take It.

Dear Niece Who Is All Tween-ish, 
I did, in fact, finish The Mazerunner. There were days I missed the characters and worried about their survival. I felt embarrassed about that. 
I was intrigued at the word "inventions" of shuck and klunk...and how once again a novel about Basic Needs and Survival has gone viral with teen lit MAYBE because the teens reading said novels do not have to worry about Basic Needs and Survival? Wondering how popular this novel would be in Syria or Uganda? 
Hashtag Just Sayin'.
Do Not Respond - Just Take It.

Saturday, December 05, 2015

Take a Seat. Connect with Ginkgos.

Childhood memories + Ginkgo trees + MS Society + Berte Family = Outdoor Classroom in the Key of Bronze.

So I have this baby brother (big fat baby). Maybe he's not so good at spelling and I used that against him for awhile...but perhaps he is a brilliant sculptor who finds meaning and connection in un-before-seen ways.
(the mock-ups):

We used to climb Ginkgo trees as small children (soft bark, low branches, plenty of leaf coverage) and yell at faculty and students who would come out of buildings at BSC where Higher Learning was taking place.

We thought we were funny. Most likely, we were annoying.

But it's part of our fabric of childhood memory.

Fast forward some decades and baby brother submitted a proposal for an outdoor classroom of bronze seats in the shape of ginkgo leaves to be positioned within the Grove of Ginkgos at BSC.

And he did it.

Ginkgos are their own beast. You can read it here, and get into the dinosaurs and atomic bombs. They can survive, connect, re-connect, and survive.

Just like those of us with MS. You can survive, connect, re-connect, and survive.

The message of the Outdoor Classroom Bronze Seat Ginkgo Leaf Installation is that through connection we can DO this. We can strive for an MS-free world, we can believe in the Ginkgo, we can form connections through conversation while sitting on bronze leaves under ginkgo trees.

See more awesome-er pictures here.

Or go climb a tree. Feel the bark. Sense the connection.
Survive, re-connect and then survive again.

Peace and love and ginkgo to you all...

Friday, December 04, 2015

Thistle Stop Cafe: You Want To Go To There.

Here's what you do:

Read this book:
The Way of Tea and Justice

Call a few friends and say, "Friends, I miss you. You are important. Let's meet and drink tea and talk about meaningful topics for 14 hours straight. Go."

Then meet in Nashville, TN (no matter where your home is, drive towards Nashville) at the Thistle Stop Cafe.

When you get there, first look around at the decor. Soak it in. Especially the "chandeliers."

Then order food and drink.
Eat and talk, sip, repeat.
Stay three hours.
Buy some merchandise.

Especially for teachers!  We ALL have teachers: in school, in church, at the farmers' market, at the library, next door neighbors. If you are stressing about what to get them for Christmas, consider Shared Trade! Consider Thistle Stop Cafe! Consider Thistle Farms!

Glennon Doyle Melton beautifully wrote about gratitude for teachers on her blog:
Teachers: Please know that we support you. You are doing the holiest, hardest work
on earth.
 Tweet: TEACHERS—WE SUPPORT YOU. You are doing the holiest, hardest work on earth. @momastery Nobody is more important than the ones who hold our babies in their hands and hearts all day.
Thank you, teachers.

After you are asked to leave Thistle Stop Cafe, find a hotel and check in and drink more tea. Then find a great vegan/vegetarian/crunchy granola restaurant and ask the Google Maps lady to talk you to there.
Order food.

Eat and then before it gets too late, drive home on your organic food high and take out your contacts and put on your glasses.
Pour a glass of wine and continue the 14-hour-meaningful conversation.
Tomorrow you can have more tea.

You need to do this people.
For the tea industry, for the teachers (did you notice "tea" is in "teachers"?), for friendship, for your soul, DO THIS people.

For the love and Thistle Stop everything,

Monday, November 30, 2015

DNR-JTI: Take 3

Dear First-Born Of My Womb,
You are figuring things out. Like, how the world works, and all and, like, stuff and things. Whatever dude, you are a Tween. For the record, "Always" and "Never" are not better than "Usually" and "Sometimes" in any sentence you construct to speak with me. 
Do not start any sentence with "But." 
Believe me, for the love of all beings what breathe. I want to hear what you think and feel, but please consider your words. 
Extreme rarely works in relationships. 
Hashtag I love you.

Dear Caffeine,
You are a drug and I love you. When I ingest you (usually in the form of caff and decaf coffee), I am quicker than the Internet. My ideas are brilliant and I love all people. 
Thank you so much for the morning delusion.

Dear Alanis Morissette,
How did you invade my brain in the mid-nineties and wait there until this Thanksgiving 2015 when I couldn't stop watching your Thank You video on You Tube?  Thanks for being raw and out of tune...and a deep feeling yogi. Yes, Thank You India and you are Good and choose life.

Dear ThxThxThx,
I always want to write the Thank You Note. Then I am troubled by the death of trees and ink dyes and the pen I write with and I settle into being Generally Burdened With Human Impact on the Earth (Hooray for the Summit in France today)...

 So, in the meantime, THANK YOU for reminding us to give thanks. 
Be One of the Ten, people (Luke 17). 
Hashtag Not To Get All Biblical, Just Trying To Keep It Real.

Sunday, November 01, 2015

This Is The One Precious Life, And It Doesn't Matter What Your Butt Looks Like.

It happened, y'all. Anne Lamott showed up, fully and present, unashamed to be scattered and spaced out.
One of her many mantras to herself is, "Even though you are scattered and spaced out, I fully love and accept you."

What would happen to us as people if we said, "I fully love and accept you" to ourselves everyday? Some people don't need that, clearly...but those who do...what a gift those words are.

She began speaking as if she wondered why we had all asked her here, bought all the tickets within 24 hours and then created the need for an overflow room. Her only answer was that maybe it's something about the way she talks that gives us a sense of relief...YOU THINK? YES, INDEED, ANNIE, YOU DO.

I was writing as fast as I could to record her every vowel, and these gems gave me and those around me a sense of relief tonight.

Anne said:

This is the one precious life, and it doesn't matter what your butt looks like.

Look up! You don't have to look at your feet. You don't have to look at your stomach. Yes, it sticks out. We got older. Sue us.

"Me too!" is the greatest theological line.

Do you want to be RIGHT, or KIND?

I make up almost all of my own problems, then I punish people around me and extract vengeance...but I make most of it up.

Where do we start? We start by stopping.

When we are in the abyss, Jesus doesn't say, "For Pete's sake, snap out of it."
He says, "Well why don't I come down there with you? I have a little bit of water to drink. It's not much..."

I insist on doing the grief, doing the angry.

You get to start over - it's the Christian tradition! You get to start over, just as soon as you remember that you do.

I have this family that lives with me...oh wait. MY family - my family lives with me...

Every single person's heart gets shattered in this life.

And I just said to God, "...WHATEVER."  (It's the fourth grader's prayer.)

God has to love you; that's God's matter how secretly awful you are.

For those of you beautiful people who are ready for more words and truth from Anne Lamott, she has written 15 books. Google her. Then pick a book. Then go to your library or an INDEPENDENT BOOK STORE owned by a local yokal who loves trees and fair wages, and pick out one of her books.
She is also fabulous to follow on Facebook and Twitter. Real stuff, y'all.
And it still doesn't matter what your butt looks like.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

DNR-JTI: Take 2

Do Not Reply - Just Take It: Take 2.

Dear Millienial Gen X-er Person Born Way After Me,
I know you can navigate between Email, Text and Twitter like they are the same beast, but I cannot. If you email me on the day I am checking my texts, you are going to have to wait. Consider the fleeting existence of the stamp. Like on an envelope. Made of paper. I cannot always tweet and text and email AND check the Facebook all on the same day. That's just way too much communication. Please join me and let's chop wood and haul water and remember what it is like to Be Present With Each Other.

Dear Trick-or-Treater,
I am sorry that I am No Fun. I affirm your creative costume. In the rain.

Dear Female Friend Who Sells Products To Bring Out My Inner Beauty,
Thank you so much for inviting me to your party. My skin definitely could use it. However I am the worst client ever because I habitually forget to wash my face. Also, I could never promote or sell your product because I would rather buy and donate and go into debt than ask anyone for anything I am afraid they may or may not want. I want to gift everything, like, all of your samples. I still think you are awesome.

Dear Unidentified Smell In My House,
Please go away. While I sleep tonight. As in, immediately.
My husband thinks that you are here because we currently have no pets. I think you are here because no one will help me clean (as in, load the dishwasher, take out the trash, do the laundry and then put it away). I am open to discussion and compromise. In the meantime, just go away.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

For Halloween, I Will Be A Statue.

For Halloween 2015, I will be a statue.
Because I am paralyzed at the thought, notion, energy required and my absolute dread of candy and trick or treating.

So I read this about the child slaves in Africa harvesting the cocoa beans for my kids' cheap chocolate fetish this Halloween weekend.

I bought fair trade chocolate last year from Equal Exchange and no one ate it. At my house or our neighborhood Halloween gathering. I ended up donating it to a preschool. But no child slaves involved! And maybe fewer cavities!

Then I saw this safe chocolate list and read more about chocolate and slavery here.

At, I learned that:

If all of us together seek out fair-trade alternatives for our chocolate we are telling the chocolate industry that we will not tolerate the exploitation of children to produce cheap, abundant chocolate. We are voting with our dollars.

I love voting. Sometimes I have dollars. I want to do this.
I checked out some more resources about labor rights here and some slave free chocolate here and alternatives to consuming and passing out chocolate and candies here (for dentists!) and over here (for the troops!) and over here (for the allergies - love you, Evelyn!)
Overall, I feel frozen, a statue.
And I feel like a coward. So I am escaping to the woods this Halloween to figure things how to have "less of a negative impact" on the world, which is different than "trying to have a more positive impact" on the world. 
But I will work on both.

I still believe in chocolate and eating it.
If folks want to trick-or-treat, PLEASE DO.
I am not judging, I am struggling...and want YOU involved in my struggle.

I have just a few dollars and I want to vote well: Statue Style.

Happy-ish Halloween, y'all!

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Do Not Respond-Just Take It. (DNR-JTI)

Jimmy Fallon apparently has a Thank You note section to his show...from which Jen Hatmaker draws much delight in the sarcasm department and shares in her book For The Love...and I have been inspired by the Thank You Note project here...but realized my sound-bite bits of gratitude are more in the vein of Do Not Respond - Just Take It (DNR-JTI).

Here are my top five for the moment:

Dear Friend I Am Thinking About At The Moment,
I'm sorry your husband is such a jerk face. I agree with you that this is most likely a phase and when his work load shifts, he will return to reality. In the meantime, I hope you can call on the memories of when you fell in love with him and you thought you would never eat, sleep or breathe again. And then there was that time y'all were at a social outing and you looked across the room at him and your first thought was I want to be with him forever in that safe and wonderful and magical way.  DNR-JTI.

Dear Friend In Transition,
I have no idea what to say, text, or email you. I am here, irrelevant and present. I will cry and pump my fists at the sky with you. But I got nothing. Let's talk or type tomorrow. DNR-JTI.

Dear New Mom Friend,
I am bringing you food. It may or may not be good. Hopefully you will be too tired and traumatized by parenthood to notice. But the effort is so full of love. When you are done leaking out of every orifice, let me know and we can go for a walk and you can complain about everything under the universe without judgment. That may be a really long walk, and I will take each step with you. DNR-JTI.

Dear Person At The Grocery Store Market Place,
Everything you are looking at on your phone and paper list is so important. This aisle is only so wide. And even though my child eating her free cookie looks like a known quantity, I can assure you that she is about to explode with that ferocity only exhaustion can ignite. So excuse me when I move your cart so I can collect 34 things in under 29 seconds and get back in the car where I can buckle her in. Srsly, excuse me. You are awesome. DNR-JTI.

Dear Family Which I Started With Some Serious Vows At A Wedding And Then Three Serious Child Births,
You people need to contribute more. On every front. But I love y'all so much I have a hard time articulating in which way I need you to contribute. I am working on NOT using profanity, so if you would recognize that while I request that you pick up all of your belongings which I am about to donate (as in you have 8 minutes) then I would really appreciate it from the bottom of my confused heart. I love you. DNR-JTI.

Amen and Love and Namaste and All That,

Sunday, October 04, 2015

Sister Face with Glennon Doyle Melton

Tonight I arrived 71 minutes early to hear the author, Truth-teller, Hope-spreader Glennon Doyle Melton speak (thank you, Raegan, for the early arrival and great seats).

Here's the view for those 71:

My dear, wise friend Angela often tells me things and recommends authors before I am ready for them. She recommended Glennon to me several times (at least 8) before I read one of her blog posts which began something like this:
"You guys, I don't have much time to write, but I just saw my therapist and it was awesome I have to share with you because YOU KNOW how much therapy costs and if I share with you and it helps then paying that much was worth it."

Do you know how many hot spot buttons she hits with that one run-on sentence?  I was in love.

I started following her blog and then got her book and then read it a few times then drove it over to some friend's houses to make sure they could touch it and see it then read it...
I was, indeed, encouraged and relieved and inspired.

Tonight was my first time to see her not on a screen and to hear her not through speakers.

She brought her sister, who manages her schedule or something, and I always think to myself, "I wish I had brought my sister." Good job, Glennon.

First thing when it was over, I got a picture with Glennon's younger sister and we are making the Sistering Face.

Glennon writes here about the process of Sistering in carpentry, and she talked about it tonight. And when she was done with the explanation of this amazing process she made this face:

So sister and I did the Sistering Face. I am on the right. Obviously.

I kept thinking about this one time when my real life family was taking a group picture and my real life sister and I were standing next to each other, supporting each other (as in Sistering Like Carpenters) and she said, "Okay, silly face one!"
To which I thought, "Oh we are all going to make a silly face in this one family picture since we just took a posed, smiley-faced one."
Stupid thought on my sister part. I was the only one to make a silly face in that protrait. I got Sister Punk'd...which is so worth it now that there is an official Sister Face.

Then I got to Sister Face with Glennon!

And Rachel photobombed us in the back! Because she's a sister too! 

At the end of her talk, I think ALL of us felt like sisters. And I hope we keep using our faces to show it.

In the meantime, here are some of the notes I took, because sharing therapy is always the right thing to do:

1. Laughter is the proof of hope.

2. Be aware of when you reject an invitation from God.

3. Progress is not a line for anyone. It is a spiral staircase; we keep coming around and around.

4. You have to choose between being Real & Loved and being Perfect & Admired. Nothing hurts as much as not being known.

5. Be a witness to other people's "Easy Buttons" (places of denial) and a tight judge of your own.

6. See other women as masterpieces, not mirrors.


8. Our entire economy is based on you feeling like crap...that you will never have enough of all that stuff you don't need.

9. (To her therapist) That sounds really you have any more pills?

10. Forgiveness is not always a once and's a spiral staircase too.

Thank you Glennon Doyle Melton and Sister.  We will carry your torch through Birmingham and keep encouraging Truth-tellers and Hope-spreaders.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Lesson My Impact #6: Coffee and Knitting

It turns out, people, that if you order a BOX of coffee from Einstein Brothers (for your office or your long trip home from Florida) and you drink all the coffee and break down the box to recycle it, of course, INSIDE the box is an AMAZING bag.
It's silver.

It's thick enough to keep the coffee warm and away from things that don't need to be wet, but not too thick to push a needle and thread through.

What I am saying is that you can add a strap, people!  This strap can hang on a hook, or even your shoulder.
You can wind a ball of yarn and throw it in the bag, then pull the working string through the hole that the coffee used to come out of.
I know, be amazed.
Now your yarn won't get all knotty!

Then you can start knitting yourself a hat.
Pick one of those mindless patterns where you just go 'round and 'round because, after all, you drank all that coffee so there is none left to help get you through a hard pattern with dropping and yarn-overing and or using a cable to do that cable thing.

Then you can call your friend who works for the Laura Crandall Brown Ovarian Cancer Foundation and find out when they are putting packets together with Chemo Caps and Port Pillows.

Get all of your other friends to make one cap each, a few pillow ports for fun, and Voila! We are caffeined-up happy knitting sewing encouragers for all of our sisters fighting Ovarian Cancer!

Go team!

*If you will knit one chemo cap for an adult-sized head, let me know.

**A port pillow is a small pillow with velcro attached that clasps around the chest strap seat belt in a car so that the seatbelt doesn't press uncomfortably on the port usually embedded to attach the chemo tubing during treatment. Here is a pattern:

Tuesday, September 08, 2015

Labor Day 2015

I don't love camping.
I love what my family becomes while camping.
See what I did there?  I took something SIMPLE and made it COMPLICATED. It's a spiritual gift.

We went on a 24 hour camp-over at Camp Sumatanga for Labor Day. Usually, when we camp, we have a shaky entry into the "wild" but then everyone calms down a notch and becomes less frantic people. It's beautiful and hard to describe.

We played basketball, tennis, soccer, Ga-ga (for real), walked and climbed the playground.
I thought, Hey! This is fun! We are all playing together!
For like 27 whole minutes no one was arguing!

Then the wind would change direction and all the sudden this "whole trip is horrible and I am not having fun and she is bothering me again and my ice cubes are not cold enough."
Whaaaa? What just happened?

We have "enormous feelings" in our house (thank you Jen Hatmaker, For The Love) and we are definitely a Spicy Family, as opposed to Sweet ((thank you Jen Hatmaker, For The Love).

Our spicy, enormous feelings are too big even for a campground apparently as it became clear that whatever Husband and I are teaching as "parents", it's not sticking.

Like Jen said, we too are raising feral children who will not contribute to society or be loving and kind to others. (thank you Jen Hatmaker, For The Love). In addition, we are raising entitled whining ninnies who think expressing gratitude is a punishment.

Can you tell I am feeling like a parental failure after forcing my kids into nature, preparing healthy foods, and limiting wifi access for 24 WHOLE HOURS?

We even went by the Nina Reeves Prayer chapel since she is kinda a Huge Big Deal.

I am exhausted.
Husband and I decided to camp without the children next Labor Day.
Just sayin'.