it’s time for a bullet post!

Last week I sat down to blog and couldn’t think of a flipping thing to write about. No big deal, I thought. Just take a few days off and try again. Sure enough, on Friday I started a post I thought had potential but when I revisited it this morning I felt all blah about it, like who could possibly care about that particular piece of writing? My fingers paused above the keyboard, actually, literally, paused, as I considered potential posts. Part of me considered venting about some family drama I’m going through, but that didn’t feel necessary, although it maybe would have been funny. I’m still working my way through the second novel in Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series and while I’m enjoying it I doubt I’ll be moved to review it. I thought about skipping another blogging session, but if there is one thing I know, it’s that writing begets writing and the only solution to any kind of writer’s block, apart from a long walk alone, is to just keep at it.

Time for a bullet post, then! Eight bullet posts about the here and now mostly now.

* This is me, today yesterday. I’ve been avoiding taking selfies ever since my minister went on a small rant about how self-indulgent and ultimately joyless they are and I found myself agreeing with him, but yesterday, feeling exhausted from over 24 hours without sleep and managing a croupy one year old, I was feeling particularly blue about my appearance. To pass some time I tried snapping some pictures of me with Duncan but even sick, he won’t sit still, so I ended up with this. In our culture it’s easy to feel defeated in the face of so much manufactured beauty, and it’s only recently I not only came to terms with my appearance but have been proud of it and, at times, even felt beautiful. I like this shot because I haven’t had any sleep, I don’t have a stitch of makeup on, I’m covered in pasta sauce and yet I was able to look at it and think, well. Not too bad for a 37 year-old mom of two:

croup

* I’ve come to the realization recently that I’ve been shying away from fully utilizing my intellect at work, and yes, I realize how ridiculous that sounds. Since I’m in healthcare PR I spend a lot of time with doctors and I don’t ever expect to know the same kind of stuff they do, but within my own department I often still act like the 30 year old I was when I started, instead of owning and using my knowledge, making recommendations and believing in myself and my decisions. A lot of different events have brought me to this insight, and since realizing it I’ve taken a much more active role in my department. I don’t expect this to cure any of the frustrations I have with the position but it feels great – and belated – to have confidence in what I believe is right.

* Plenty has been written about the power of saying no, and I don’t need to belabor it all here, but I’ve recently found a ton of freedom in saying no to things that make me feel uncomfortable financially. As I’ve written about previously, paying for the cost of two children in daycare has put a strain on our finances, and our previous lifestyle – one where we could pick up whatever food we wanted to cook, whenever we wanted it without a budget, go out to eat on a whim, take vacations without saving – is temporarily gone. I occasionally get down about this and feel as though I’m failing, somehow – and then I hit myself on the forehead and remember in the last six years Sam graduated law school, we bought a house, and we had two kids. That’s quite a lot for such a short time frame and financial growing pains are to be expected. Because money is always hard to talk about, however, I’ve struggled with explaining to my friends who earn more money than we do that I can no longer afford to regularly go out for expensive dinners but I took the leap and you know what? It’s never about the expensive dinners. My friends are just as happy to come to my house and eat bad Chinese or have me at theirs for impromptu parties – some of them, I think, are even secretly relieved we aren’t spending 60 dollars on miso blackened cod. I took this approach a step further and told my parents that as much as I would love to, Evangeline and I wouldn’t be joining them in Florida this April. Frankly, this decision is crushing for all of us but my brother is also getting married this summer so I am being fiscally responsible and while it doesn’t always feel great, I’m proud of myself for exerting control in this area of our lives.

* When March began, I decided it would be the month of task completion. I am pretty sure that’s a football term, and Sam uses it all the time to celebrate or bemoan the general state of our lives with two little ones in the house. Between horrible weather conditions and illness, a lot of my goals, both short-term and long-term, were interrupted but March! March, I vowed, would be the month of Moving Things Forward. I would finish my minimalism-reorganization of the kitchen! I would have mostly have the third floor front room cleaned out and ready to become a playroom. I would have my yoga and aerobics schedule firmly in hand and for the love of all things holy I would finish Serial and Dragonfly in Amber so I could move the fuck on in my reading/listening life. I made good headway for a couple of weeks but a long business trip for Sam, a visit from my parents, and Duncan’s croup interrupted my progress (I might as well write lifeinterrupted my progress!). I have a few days left in March and while I know I won’t accomplish all of my goals, moving onto new reading material will be wonderful.

*Oh! The Counting Crows just came on the radio! I listened to the song “Anna Begins” countless times when I wrote my novel back in my early thirties – it seemed to so perfectly encapsulate my narrator. Despite their incredible progression as a band, I’m always transported back to the end of high school and beginning of college by their sound. The Counting Crows is one of the few bands I’d love to see live that I haven’t (ah – another luxury we thoughtlessly spent money on for years – concert tickets! it drives both sets of our parents nuts that we don’t yet own a proper dining room table. Oh well – we own enough memories of rock concerts, I suppose.)

* Returning to a couple of bullet points ago, regarding how slowly I’m moving through podcasts, reading material, and the like – it’s been years since I’ve been able to watch television shows in real time, which makes me fairly useless when it comes to the proverbial water cooler conversation at work. Last week one of my co-workers bounded up to (he’s sort of puppyish – bounded really is the right verb, here) and asked me if I’d seen the previous night’s episode of “The Walking Dead”. “No, but I recently finished the Sopranos,” I said helpfully. He turned away wordlessly, disgusted.

* Since the beginning of 2015, a handful of my friends have been forced to face some really scary situations. Now that Duncan is past his first year, I’ve been able to do small things for these friends – make a covered dish, run errands, check in regularly. After the love and support I received from so many people during the first years of my children’s lives, it feels amazing to be in this place, this place of helping others.

* Michigan State somehow landed in the Final Four. Usually an avid fan of my college basketball team, this year I turned my attention to Pitt since we had season tickets. A mistake, obviously. Saturday Michigan State faces Duke, Sam’s team – so it should be a pretty tense afternoon in our house. I am really looking forward to BOTH final four games – Wisconsin versus Kentucky should be spectacular. It’s not often I say this but no matter what happens on Saturday, I am guaranteed to watch the championship game next Monday – something I don’t commit to most years!

Ah, well. There you have it. I hope to have a more topic-focused post for you next time. Have a great week!

Midway through the season of Lent

Growing up as a Presbyterian in a predominantly Catholic town, I generally felt left out during the observance of Lent. I grew up in the kind of Presbyterian congregation that the minister of my current church jokingly refers to as “the frozen chosen” – we never clapped after guest musicians performed, we rarely decorated the church and our passing of the peace didn’t go beyond the lightest hand shake we could get away with. Frankly, I had little understanding of Lent as a season unto itself because nothing really changed noticeably until Palm Sunday, when the kids in the congregation were given palm leaves and reenacted Jesus’ return to Jerusalem. Things grew a little more lively during Holy Week and Easter – I recall releasing multi-colored balloons into the air in recognition of the resurrection, at least. But it definitely felt like the Catholics had most of Lent to themselves. On Fridays, all of my friends feasted on fried fish dinners from Lud’s, the local fast-food restaurant, and during the week the school halls were full of chatter about what everyone was “giving up” in observance of Lent. Pop, chocolate, candy or sugar altogether, swearing, lying, not-studying – whatever, it never seemed entirely bad to have a goal of some sort during the dark cold of late winter. I remember asking my mom at some point if I should give something up for lent and she vehemently opposed the idea, stating that was a Catholic thing, probably while she sat a juicy prime rib roast in front of us on a Friday while my dad muttered something about giving up chocolate, equivocating, and forty days in the desert.

Not huge fans of the Catholic religion, my parents.

When I moved to Pittsburgh I began thinking of Lent as its own season, partially because the ministers of my church guide us through it patiently and worshipfully but also because of my city’s willingness to embrace and then build upon any opportunity to create community. Catholics can’t eat meat on Fridays? No problem. Every Catholic church and fire hall within three counties will host a fish fry! And people, we aren’t just talking, as you might think, about the ubiquitous fried fish advertised by McDonald’s or Wendy’s – meals that are punishing in and of themselves. We are talking about homemade macaroni and cheese and spaghetti with olive oil, roasted fried shrimp and sauteed scallops – heaping, steaming platefuls of delicousness cooked up by nuns and women who regularly man large church kitchens. These fish fries are generally bring-your-own-beverage and they can be found in every Pittsburgh neighborhood, borough and suburb during Lent. To accompany these fish fries, many organizations host small carnivals, game nights and fundraisers, and so people who have remained at home on Friday nights since Christmas, at first as a welcome respite from the holiday bustle and then as a less-welcome avoidance of the cold, break out of their hermit shells and go out.

Everything begins to feel a little less dark as the Lenten season begins – the days begin to lengthen, allowing light, metaphorical and literal, to pour in.

Since the start of 2015, we’ve had a difficult time making it to church on Sundays. Every Sunday so far at least one of us has been sick except for one, where we managed to stay until the middle of the first hymn when I realized the stomach bug I so smugly thought I avoided receiving from the rest of the family struck – no child has ever been ripped so quickly from Sunday school as Evangeline was that morning. So Sam and I focused on Lent. By the time Lent begins, we reasoned, the children will be healthy. By the time Lent begins, we told ourselves, our plumbing woes will be over. We will return to regular church going with the start of the Lenten season and it shall be glorious, a small-scale resurrection of our own sort.

And on the first Sunday of Lent we did – we made it to church. We made it through the announcements and the first hymn and passing the peace and almostto the children’s sermon when Duncan – who made it very clearly known that he would NOT be left in the nursery – let out a tortured wail in response to the organ and did.not.stop. Sam took him in the hallway to go for a walk when, just as the children’s sermon was about to begin, Evangeline leaned in and whispered to me “momma, I have to use the potty. It can’t wait.” And so she and I walked to the women’s room and as my daughter was about to get down to business she slipped on some PEE on the floor – someone before us obviously hadn’t been able to make it to the actually bathroom on time – and she fell and soaked her pants, and lo – the crying. The crying. “It’s not very fun,” she gasped, “to be covered in someone else’s pee.”

of course it isn’t.

I carried her out into the hallway where Sam was managing a fussy Duncan and through marital ESP finely tuned over the last fifteen years we decided, without speaking, to head for the door.

Since that last service, we haven’t been back to church yet. Minor illnesses and major weather inconveniences have kept us away, and while initially I’ve felt guilty about it, I knew I had to look at our circumstances in a different light. Because of weather or runny noses, I’ve been able to stay home and experience long Sunday mornings. I’m a lucky mom with kids who like to sleep and on Sundays they often don’t rise until 7:30 or 8:00 a.m., allowing for two breakfasts (the first fed to the kids immediately while Sam and I drink coffee, the second mid-morning when the grownups are ready to eat) – and so, during these first snow-bound Sundays of lent, I shut out the voices of my mother and grandmother, who for some reason always seemed to believe that God is mostly found in the formal spaces set aside for prayer (church, dinner table, bedroom) and instead found grace every time Duncan brought me a book, climbed into my lap and began sucking his thumb, waiting expectantly for a story; I breathed in the warmth of my daughter as she emerged from her bed, I exhaled a prayer of peace. I said thanks for runny yellow egg yolks on fresh sourdough toast and sunlight glinting through dust-smeared dining room windows, for half finished cups of coffee left abandoned in order to keep the baby from his latest death wish.

At one point, I emailed our minister to explain our predicament. He’s a compassionate, understanding man and I believe in the work of our church and, I don’t know, I didn’t want him to think we’d just abandoned church. He of course wrote back something gracious and understanding, ending on a note stating he hoped the rest of the Lenten season was less eventful and more worshipful for us. And, in its own way, it has been.

“You say grace before meals. All right. But I say grace before the concert and the opera, and grace before the play and pantomime, and grace before I open a book, and grace before sketching, painting, swimming, fencing, boxing, walking, playing, dancing and grace before I dip the pen in the ink.”

― G.K. Chesterton