~thankful thursday~ shadows and butterflies

11/1/19

~30 days of gratitude~ day 1

I am grateful that it is gratitude month! It’s year number four of me NanoPoblano-ing my way through the month of November on the subject of gratitude, and this year I found myself looking forward to November, which is an odd sensation for me, hater of the cold darkness that I am. This is not just because October was haunted house month, aka Exhaustion and Lack of Free Time month, and November means haunted house season is at its end. It’s also because the best cure for autumn exhaustion and ennui that I have found is a daily bowl of thankful soup. (Haha, just kidding. A plate of gratitude nachos is what we eat at our house.)

I am grateful for the way the band boosters haunted house showed me the generous side of this community. I met and got to know some wonderful people throughout the past few months. Whether it was watching a team of guys build the whole structure to plan on a Thursday, for free, then having the lead builder walk up and insist on paying for his ticket, handing my child over to the moms who do know how to apply makeup each night he participated, or having a football parent hand me a big donation check, this whole experience really made me feel grateful for this community.

Last night was the final haunted house for the season and I am still processing the toughest moment of the whole experience for me. I sold a ticket to an adult sized male child. I counted back his change, and as he turned to get in line, I noticed he had on a large backpack made of the same authentic looking materials as the fatigues he was wearing. I said aloud to my ticket booth teammate that I was concerned about his backpack, and kept my eyes glued to him while he joined the end of the line of 50 or so people, set his backpack on the ground, unzipped it, and pulled out a gun.

I flew out of the booth and over to where he stood, inches from him though he had quickly tucked the rifle back into the pack, and as he had showed it to some teens across the rope from him, I had noticed an orange tip. The situation de-escalated quickly, though the teen seemed unable to understand why I wouldn’t allow him to enter the haunted house with his backpack. “It’s just an airsoft rifle. I won’t take it out in there.”

Though there are many things that unsettled me about this experience, about the common sense gaps of this apparently harmless kid, who concluded that it would be a good choice to brandish a non-lethal but extremely realistic and not completely harmless weapon on public fairgrounds at a school function, I also learned a lot. I know I fancied myself a person who would step up to help in a real gun situation, which as a mom in our current day and age, you know I have imagined a time or two. In that moment, the shape of a gun was being pulled from a bag, and I was in flight towards it, the various disarms, blocks, and strikes I know flashing through my mind, simultaneous with the knowledge that I do NOT know all I would need to safely disarm an active shooter. (How grateful I am that this was not that scenario cannot be really expressed in words.) I now know that I am actually that type of person, not just in imagination. Even though this situation was a false alarm, for the seconds it took me to react, it was all too real.

I’m a little bummed to start off the gratitude challenge with being grateful for this new, albeit heavy, self-knowledge. I almost want to change topics, but one thing I have learned with mindfulness practices is that I should really handle what’s foremost in my mind right now, to stay as human as I can, as whole and integrated as I can.

I also wonder if this is the point of the gratitude challenge. We’re heading into the lengthening darkness, and yet we have a choice how we perceive the passage of the dark, wet, months as well as how we process difficult events and experiences. I think it is all part of choosing a thought process shaped by gratitude, even when peering into the shadows.

 

11/2/19

~30 days of gratitude~ day 2

In August Rich and I visited the corner of my parents’ farm where the migrating monarchs were a kaleidoscope of wings wheeling among a rainbow of tall flowers. I took a million photos, journaled descriptive language, and vowed to myself that “as summer floats south on the wings of the magical creatures we witnessed, I will reserve a part of my heart as a sanctuary for the butterflies of summer.”

Dwelling on gratitude as the days grow very dark and cold is, to me, a bit like keeping the habitat open for the butterflies, holding space for what needs to take root to foster their ability to thrive. It doesn’t mean I can ever keep the clouds from passing over that habitat, or stop the clock on the passage of the seasons. What I can do is watch the clouds passing over, trusting they are not here to stay. Contemplating darkness doesn’t mean it will become a permanent condition. And indeed, I seemed to have launched this round of gratitude posts by delving into the shadows. While it was summer, I watched the butterflies alight on each flower, pausing to drink in sweetness, lifting upward on the next air current. While it’s winter, it takes all my courage to descend into the dark, but I trust that I will emerge next spring transformed by whatever develops in the darkness.

The caterpillar entering the chrysalis is of course not an activity/metaphor of fall and winter. Still, there is something about how they go inward and turn into caterpillar soup (caterpillar nachos don’t sound any more appetizing) that resonates in autumn. The chrysalis is a slow cooker of broth seasoned with imaginal cells, those bits of the crawling being that code for the dream of flying it has always known as its destiny. A little trust in the process, a little rearrangement of the molten materials, and out comes a winged creature.

It may take more years of this practice before I can truly feel thankful for darkness, or the meltdown it initiates in me. Simmering in my slow cooker today, I’m grateful for memories of summer, excellent walks with my husband, and butterflies.

 

11/3/19

~30 days of gratitude~ day 3

I am grateful for the extra hour today, as long as I don’t think about what it means about the brevity of daylight during upcoming evenings. I used it to catch up on a seriously backlogged grocery list. I left my son to his homework. He is rising to the executive functioning occasion so majestically right now, planning his work and then actually following the plan, setting his own timers and hearing them go off. I wandered off to re-stock baking powder and vanilla and all the autumn baking needs. As I watched the fragrant curry powder, cumin, and coriander fill the paper bags in the bulk spice section, I pondered the soap opera phrase about sand through the hourglass. I remembered back to when Quinn was mostly unsuccessful at joining any preschools, due to his refusal to adhere to anyone’s agenda but his own. As one group moved obediently to snack time while Quinn persisted in pressing playdough through his garlic press, unable to move on just because someone suggested it was cleanup time, I mused how these moments of three-year-old parenting were moving more like playdough through the garlic press than sand through the hourglass. Fast forward to now, and time seems to be moving more like the zesty chipotle, the flaky oregano, rushing out of their jars in great dollops and clumps.

Tonight, I decided I hadn’t used my extra hour yet and took a bath. Winning at daylight savings, and feeling grateful.

 

11/4/19

~30 days of gratitude~ day 4

By day four of the gratitude month, gratitude starts to become the predominant lens through which I view my day. It becomes easier to really taste the layers of flavor in that gulp of coffee rather than just pour it down the hatch. It is a joy to be able to take the overflowing compost container outside to the pile before work, because the daylight has shifted to the before-work segment of the day. Seeing memories pop up about “cracking the homework whip” just one year ago makes the progress I’m seeing in my kid seem even more sweet, having retired my whip some time ago. A Roy Orbison serenade and a wood stove fire started out my Monday just right, and it has stayed right all day. Before and after work hugs are bookends to contain my internal pages, regulate my breathing, keep my overthinking in check. The boy has decided on a night off from homework after a long day of testing, and is diving into the next book after Ender’s Game. The man is sipping whiskey and reclining. The kitties are basking in the glow of the wood stove. And I am playing with words, one of my favorite things to do.

 

11/5/19

~30 days of gratitude~ day 5

Quinn and I drove to school, gray sweatshirts the unanimous clothing choice of the gray dawn commute. He was probably imagining his into a flash suit, deeply engrossed in Ender’s world. I was imagining the silver-gray Arctic cod I would be measuring all morning. As I pulled into work, the sun was partially obscured behind the sleek blue-gray clouds, like the still-sleeping eye of a great blue whale, buoyed along on a slim layer of pink krill. Before I could park, the whale had plunged below the surface, taking the krill with it, and all was back to gray and smooth and placid.

I am usually more of a rainbow type of gal than an appreciator of gray, but as I look around for ways to be thankful for what is, my appreciation of this subtle hue family grows. The photo I did get (not the sky whale) was from the afternoon; still gray, but I notice there is usually some silver, gold, or even pink hiding along the edges of the grays, whether in muted skyscapes or the flashing sides of tiny fish, and so much texture and nuance. I think it is a worthy cause, this consideration of the gray areas. Today I am grateful for new perspectives.

 

11/6/19

~30 days of gratitude~ day 6

I learned that the monarch butterflies on their overwintering grounds are called The Souls.

A soul cannot be assigned to an organ system or even to the body at all, though it seems to be tied to it by the most infinitesimally thin heartstring.

You can’t point at your soul, but you can feel a tug on the string every so often. Like when I walked into the break room at work earlier this week to find a pile of donated Halloween candy on the table, m&ms and milky ways. My Nana, who died when I was 4, always had m&ms and milky ways for my older brother and I to choose from (he usually chose a milky way and I usually chose m&ms) when we would visit. Tug tug. This time I chose a milky way.

She is always with me, within me like rings of a tree, like if you look at us in cross section, each of us might be made of concentric circles holding inside the generations that have come before.

You can’t really point at gratitude either, but you can feel it. I spend November blabbing all about it, trying to point at it with words, but they are approximations at best (still, a worthy pastime that keeps me out of trouble). The more I contemplate it, what it is and what it means, the less it is about each discrete item I’m thankful for, and the more it is an awareness of being swaddled in a blanket of blessings, a coating of live butterflies surrounding my tree, encrusting its bark with all the joy of flight, the hope of survival through another winter, the optimism with which I look at the next generational ring growing outward from me, and from the source that is also my source.

~rainbow mondays~ roots

         

   

 

~rainbow mondays~

a splash of color on monday

a photo study documenting the colors of the spectrum: the balance points between light reflected and light absorbed

~rainbow mondays~ habitat

               

~rainbow mondays~

a splash of color on monday

a photo study documenting the colors of the spectrum: the balance points between light reflected and light absorbed

~summer shorts~ summer flutters by

My eyelids flutter closed. I slip back into august again, and i am walking beside my husband through the low cut hay field lined with goldenrod hedgerows. our bearing is eastward to the orchard that is farthest away from the farmhouse i grew up in. we know we will visit it by wagon ride the next day, but by walking there we arrive with more stealth on the scene of a kaleidoscope of wings wheeling among a rainbow of tall flowers.

Here in the sodden soil, goldenrod is joined by joe-pye weed, its flowers like so much rose colored ball fringe festooned atop stems as tall as i am. Queen anne’s lace and boneset knit an ecru border around the drier edges while sedges and rushes wade into the wetter patches of earth. A katydid catapults itself on a short but powerful flight, its four wings extended, pellucid green against the summer sky, before collapsing back into its origami leaf disguise and landing on a sedge. Vervain sends up tall purple spears of flowers and jewelweed’s orange cornucopias bob in the zephyr breeze. Asters have only just begun to bloom, but soon will partner with the goldenrod to robe the whole landscape in the colors of royalty.

Monarchs paint the brightest brush strokes across the air currents for right now. Pairs chasing one another, loners darting across distances that seem far too large for such small creatures to traverse, yet our eyes only take in a small fraction of the distance they will cover. Still more of them appear, even as the ones i last laid eyes on hurtle towards the horizon. our eyes follow the flight paths of so many individuals we lose count.

Thorns of a black raspberry rake across the skin of my whole knee leaving an angry scrape. Abruptly I return to reality, where summer is ending, where the beautiful winged beings are leaving for many months. The pain in my knee reminds me of the ache in my heart. Summer is going, going, gone.

My eyes flutter open again and it is September 22 upon this spinning earth that is poised to tip itself into autumn, to let rain and leaves succumb to the gravity of fall and start coming down. My knee is healed, but my heart is still tender. I make a vow to myself as summer floats south on the wings of the magical creatures we witnessed, to reserve a part of my heart as a sanctuary for the butterflies of summer.

~a month in the life of a lifelong learner~ resilience and reciprocity

An actual week of down time

Late july… TAG program had finished, nobody was visiting, the dojo was closed, it wasn’t time for theatre camp yet, and the only thing quinn had that week was 2 afternoon swim lessons. it was some much needed down time. We got to do things like family boating and have the family of camp boss came over to bounce. q binge listened to audio books to catch up on the wings of fire series- i took him to the library to get a few books (actual ones with pages) and it reminded him of series he wants to continue.

pancakes

our pancakes visited! they seem like they are getting so big… until i see them next to quinn! He truly grew so very tall this past year. We all went to Arr place for breakfast, and then played at the big pirate ship playground. We flew kites at the beach, and went home for spaghetti dinner. Quinn is still branching out little by little with foods, and instead of his normal plain noodles with only parmesan on top, requested his noodles “lightly stained” with sauce.

Laptop repair

quinn made it through last school year using my old laptop, but by the end he was limping along with a cracked screen which would cause glitches (it is touch screen so the cracked area would act like it was the place being touched instead of wherever you were navigating with the actual mouse). after a tiny bit of research i spent $20 on a new screen/digitizer and one evening we took it apart, and the next morning we finished putting it back together! and turned it on! and it worked! It is hard to overstate how pleased we were with ourselves! It now acts as just a standard screen and no longer does touchscreen, so there might be a loose connection but the touch screen feature is not necessary. just the fact that it runs and didn’t completely get broken beyond repair by my repair is a win. Hurray for a second year of school with this laptop (fingers crossed) for $20!

Here he is putting in the last screw, whooping when it actually turned on, and then testing minecraft to enjoy the lack of glitches!

it’s been kind of nice that his laptop was under the weather. i didn’t rush to fix it for summer and i think he spent more time unplugged because of it. he used it some when it wasn’t acting up, but would eventually lose patience with glitches and do off screen playing.

reciprocity

he has days where he is not always up for conversation and will just silent treatment me. not in a mean way, it just seems he is inside there percolating. fixing the laptop screen was a fun activity together and we had a couple of good nights at karate, as he has been learning his green belt techniques, so it’s not all surliness. sifu was joking with him, “who is this person named quinn, we used to have a student named quinn a long time ago but he hasn’t been here in a long time,” and quinn was a little quiet then too, and at the end as we were leaving and sifu was concluding, “it’s just that i missed you and i’m glad you’re here.” Quinn was still quiet so i said, “and i missed you too, sifu.” i think our theme for 7th grade might be reciprocity… it covers the need for reliable two-way communication on the phone that lau and i talked about on the florida beach over smoothie bowls (memories!) and i have established is an area i want to see growth in; and reciprocity also covers being polite and, well, reciprocal in conversations (even if he didn’t feel like saying “i missed you too” then i still want him to say something that acknowledges the other person has spoken.

We had a reciprocity conversation in the car soon after that and i explained my thoughts on the phone and conversational aspects and said it’s my goal for him for 7th grade (like kitchen lunch making skills were a focus in 5th grade). he understood and seemed cheerful about it all. he hadn’t checked his phone since the previous morning, and he pulled it out to check and had messages from aragorn. he and aragorn are forming their band, naming it “the poets” and the song they want to learn right now is seven nation army  (the white stripes). i know come as you are (anyone here familiar with the band nirvana?) is also on their list to learn.

sneakers and the perception of coolness

another interesting topic arose around shoe buying… he wanted the same exact pair (saucony raptor) of running shoes as last year (still resists change as a general rule), but since he can’t (all i can find is a size 14) i looked up some other saucony and found a cool looking black pair with “slime” lime green accents, totally his color. i showed him, and he seemed to like them, but then he told me he wasn’t that excited about shoe buying because he’d still be uncool. Hold up, what? He explained, it’s the middle school thing where you have to have the In Brand of things and it’s all some kids talk about… so i asked what brand was cool last year, and he said it was Nike. i said, “well here’s the thing. i wear nikes because my feet are narrow. your feet are wide, so they might be wrong for your feet. but if you want to get nikes we can try, but i want you to try them on at the store first.” he was sort of relieved, “you mean they’re not too expensive?” and i said, “a lot of nikes are too expensive, but there are some i can afford, you would have to choose from those.” as we scrolled through them online so he saw the $8000 air jordans and the $75 dollar air pegasus (the ones i get). so a spinoff conversation happened about perceived coolness, how it changes later on into wanting to be set apart from others instead of being just like everyone else… and how it’s normal to want to do what others are doing in middle school, but that i wanted him to weigh his own likes and preferences and comfort above what others would think or like. Why be cool when you can be quull?

The next day he tried on nikes, they felt bad (too tight around his ankle) and the store only had black/white (no good colors). So he tried on saucony again. he said they felt exactly right like his old ones, and wanted to order the quull slime green ones. so i did. size 9 for those keeping score at home.

Theatre camp

q loved theatre camp as usual. they did a lot of who/what/where/when/why improvisation skits for the first few days and the first day he was a narrator, something to do with a bank guarding a cat shaped cake, and a rat came to try to steal it but it was not stolen in the end? The second day he told me, “i was a goldfish that was being carried in a sock, and really didn’t have any lines.” then we went up to middle school for registration and saw another kid who had just been at theatre camp as well who shouted across the parking lot, “hey goldfish in a sock!”

In quinn’s theatre camp performance this year, he was a battle-weary nutcracker toy who came to life with his gang of other animated toys (a ballerina on whom he had a crush, a teddy bear who liked to give him hugs when he would have war flashbacks, and a jack in the box) who all together came to life to try and save the toy shop from the evils of online shopping. the oscar may have to go to the girl who would enter each conversation the toys were having with, “did i hear you say….” and tried to entice them, in her “creepy house lady” automaton voice, to buy from her company spamazon, “which in no way was meant to resemble a copyrighted billion-dollar corporation” oh, how i love theatre kids. The icing on the cake was the spamazon emblem with, instead of an orange smiling arrow, an orange frowny face arrow.

q’s costume really accentuated his height- he wore a light blue soldier costume, with a very tall faux fur hat on his head – he looked impossibly tall. He did well with his role, and i love that they managed to feature him drumming in one scene where they did a talent show and his talent was drumming (just as the ballerina doll was an actual ballet student and got to showcase her moves). In the 2:00 show quinn had a small tom-tom type of drum, and the other toys danced while he drummed. In the 6:00 show, his entrance with the drum was late, and i heard his voice side stage call “on with the show!” and he came out carrying the helmet of the spamazon creepy lady and drummed on that. afterwards, he told me the drum had been completely missing, and so he improvised and grabbed that and carried on. I asked if someone was off stage helping him problem solve that… nope! I am SO proud of his ability to stay cool when things don’t go perfectly (he was downright cheerful about it and laughed it off) and that resilience right there is me getting my money’s worth on theatre camp.

Quinn told me that he met two girls r and e, and was happy to see his friend c with whom he has attended every theatre camp so far, but who goes to a different school, and the four of them played settlers of catan in between the 2:00 and 6:00 performances. goldberry was also attending this session, and played a hilariously emo teen character in one of the other groups. As usual, some of the youth screenwriting impressed me with the level of humor, worldliness, and existential depth.

we left for portland after the 6:00 performance and woke up to snuggles with our 6 month old (!) w pancake. She is the squishiest girl. Then it was time to head for the airport for our trip to new york!

On the planes and in the airport, quinn looked at his d and d players manual, looking like such a teen with his devices all plugged in charging and sipping a soy steamer. he also read his warriors book (he is about 6 books into the 25 or so there are in the series). On the long flight he turned on the map on his seat screen and obsessively updated me on our flight speed over the ground and amount of time to our destination. He asked if we would be getting our connecting flight in “the airport with the dinosaur” aka chicago o’hare, which was going to be the case on our return journey. The flight there went through boston, where we ate burgers for dinner.

We didn’t arrive at grammy and grampy’s house until after midnight, so you’ll have to stay tuned for next month’s lifelong learner installment to find out what happens next!

~rainbow mondays~ self care september

 

~rainbow mondays~

a splash of color on monday

a photo study documenting the colors of the spectrum: the balance points between light reflected and light absorbed

~summer shorts~ two tuna

I had been using my office primarily for brief bouts of stress-crying, not so much for consulting my calendar, and had overbooked my work life beyond what could reasonably be multi-tasked. Namely, I had booked experiments while scheduled to be on a trip to Florida to see my college friends.

After patching up that hot mess as best i can, i arrive home at 3:14 to my husband with a look on his face like he has something he is not sure he wants to say to me, because it might bring on more stress-crying. We are supposed to be out the driveway by 4 to head to the airport, so i am ready to hit the ground running to get everything organized.

“sweetie, as i was leaving work i was given two tuna. They’re in the back of my truck.”

i sprint mentally through the options, but the obvious thing to do is to cut up tuna and throw it in the freezer before we drive to the airport. The equally obvious conclusion is for me to be holding the knife.

I cut fish every which way at work, but never into fillets. I swiftly slice salmon with a scalpel to remove stomach and spleen; i carve out pacific cod otoliths, pluck out their tiny gum drop livers and peel back their scaly skin for a sample of muscle; i plunder sablefish organs, parceling them into preservatives, pausing between each one only to clean my blades with alcohol and flame. I even dissect tiny arctic cod larvae under microscope to count how many even tinier rotifer prey they have been consuming. Microsurgery, this tuna work is not.

I don’t have a fillet knife, or really any knife that i haven’t dulled, so i grab a serrated one, knowing i need something that will saw through a tuna spine.

I gut the first like i would perform a necropsy, not at all the way a fish peddler would do it. Wishing i had time to look more closely at its organs, iridescent gems in bright orange and deep merlot, i toss them unceremoniously in a bag. Two other bags fill with hunks of meat and are lobbed into the chest freezer.

Then we jump into our new family car, which we filled with pancakes one weekend before. Now it is just the two of us, grandpa and nana, heading to the airport. Gray hair climbs up from rich’s chin and licks his sideburns, like a slowly kindling fire; whereas my grays cascade down from the center of my crown like a waterfall. Long hedgerows of queen anne’s lace wind their way towards mist-wrapped coast range mountains across hay fields almost ready for second cutting. I sink into my heated seat and try to breathe more deeply, to consciously embrace this new season in which an older child and a steady paycheck set me free to take a spontaneous solo trip. the encouragement from my husband to do this for myself is the cherry on top. He lets his hand linger beside the temperature setting knob, pausing at 69 until i get the innuendo and laugh. Laughing loosens up my lungs at last. Pulling out my thin, but warm, turquoise sweater, I explain my overthinking process of packing light, including this sweater which can be rolled into a small ball.

“but sweetie, you’re bringing a sweater to florida?”

“yes, for all the air conditioning, and for the cold airplane ride.”

“You’re bringing a sweater to florida… in august? Don’t you want to store up some cold to bring with you?”

Tomatoes, tuna, peaches, and applesauce, all the many gifts of summer bounty, these I will gladly tuck into bags and freeze; better yet, i will pack them into jars and screw metal lids on them and dunk them in boiling water baths (or sister camp boss’s pressure canner, in the case of tuna) to preserve. But if there is one thing i do not want to store as summer days begin to wane, it is cold.

cousin photo tradition

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~rainbow mondays~ a heart in new york

 

~rainbow mondays~

a splash of color on monday

a photo study documenting the colors of the spectrum: the balance points between light reflected and light absorbed

~black and white wednesday~ soul of summer