Tuesday, November 4, 2014

What do you do with your time?

First of all, the fact that it took me over 3 weeks to sit down and write this post probably says something.  As does the fact that last week I found myself cleaning the ceiling fan in our daughter's bedroom and thinking "I should be blogging instead!"  However, here at last is the quarterly blog post on that all consuming question "What do you do with your time?"

I've heard that question frequently this fall, since this is the first year all three children are in school all day.  In theory, I now have hours of free time each week.  This is the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, the oasis in the desert, the carrot at the end of the stay-at-home- full- time -mom- for- 10 -years stick.  Having survived the preschool years, the cancer years, the army years, here I am.  What, indeed, do I do with my time?

The ideal answer to that question is probably along the lines of "Well, in between writing the great American Mennonite Novel, I'm working on a project to create a sustainable energy source from Pinterest projects that didn't work out, and helping with a non-profit that provides clean water to Third World countries!"  Alternatively, I'd love to be able to say "After the children get themselves up, dressed and off to school, I finish my morning cup of tea and come downstairs at 10 a.m to find the house clean, two loads of laundry already finished, and dinner preparation completed.  I then go window shopping, eat candy, and read books the rest of the day." 

Here's reality:  no two days are ever alike, and I've discovered that even "free time" fills up quickly if you don't have a plan.  For example, here's what today has looked like:  Up at 6:15.  My nephew arrives at 6:45 three mornings a week.  I finish packing lunches, call the children, and fix three bowls of yogurt for my nephew.  The children get most of their own breakfast, with reminders to clear the table themselves.  This is partially successful.  Aiden needs help with his shirt, the other two get dressed themselves.  I change the sheets on all the beds and start a load of laundry, then sign off on Logan's homework binder.  By 7:30 all four children are in the van for school, and I am in workout gear.  I drop them off, as I do all five days a week, then head into Lancaster.  After running 2 miles around the city, I stop at Central Market and pick up some goodies for Nate, who works two night shifts this week.  On the way home, I swing by the Corn Wagon and Pine View.  Back at home by 9:15, I talk to Nate, who is working on the treehouse, and help him hold some boards in place.  I wash the breakfast dishes, rotate the laundry, vacuum up the cereal, shower, and fix lunch for Nate and myself.  I check email and Facebook for 20 minutes.  After I write this, I plan to go and vote, then head back out to Park City to get a new phone after mine fried itself on Sunday.  By then, it will be time to pick the kids up at 3.  The rest of the evening will be spent folding laundry, helping with homework, making supper, and reading stories.  If I'm lucky, everyone will be in bed by 8:15, at which point I will sit down and read or crochet for an hour or two. 

If you made it to the end of that paragraph, I congratulate you.  That's a snapshot of one day. It didn't include things like yesterday's impromptu half hour visit with a dear friend, or the occasional volunteering at our local Re-Uzit shop.  It's the surface...but there's more to the picture than that.  To be continued....

Friday, August 15, 2014

Framed in domesticity

On this day of perfect weather and blue skies, I gathered my little flock together and shepherded them through 2 hours of last minute school shopping.  We went through the pre-game talk in the van, "Are you going to hang all over the cart? Are we here to buy toys?  Are you going to fight with your brother/sister?"  The only correct answer, of course, was "No, mom." 

Shockingly, despite this, there were some hiccups; stealthy sneaking toward the toy aisle, requests for quarters for those horrible claw games, and some sibling teasing, leading to what I call the "mom hiss", where said mother lowers her voice, grits her teeth, and hisses "stop that right now or there will be trouble." 

After a restorative lunch, however, we all went to a nearby park, and the day took a definite upturn.  Within minutes, all three children found a group of other kids to play with, and the next hour and a half flew by.  I checked my messages, watched them play, and actually went for a walk around the park trail, always close by.  At one point Aiden ran over to walk with me, and slipped his warm little  hand in mine.  "How are you, Mama?"  At that moment, I was perfectly content. 

Watching the children play, happily, on a beautiful, cool day, I realized that this was what I imagined motherhood would be, before I had children.  This was my vision, and for a moment, it was reality.  It took ten years to get here, but hey.  That's life. 

There is an old book, called Mrs. Minnver, written in 1940.  The narrator, an upper middle class English woman, wife and mother of three, watches her family during the happy chaos of Christmas morning and thinks about domestic life. 
"... the room was laced with an invisible network of affectionate understanding.  This was one of the moments, thought Mrs. Miniver, which paid off at a single stroke all the accumulations on the debit side of parenthood:  the morning sickness and the quite astonishing pain, the pram (stroller) in the passage ... the nameless horrors down the crevices of armchairs, the alarms and emergencies, the swallowed button, the inexplicable earache, the ominous rash appearing on the eve of a journey, the school bills and the dentists' bills, the shortened step, the tempered pace, the emotional compromises, the divided loyalties, the adventures continually forsworn."

"And now Vin was eating his tangerine, piece by piece, Judy had undressed the baby doll and was putting its frock on again back to front; Toby was turning the glass marble round and round against the light, trying to count the swirls... Mrs. Miniver looked towards the window.  The dark sky had already paled a little in its frame of cherry-pink chintz.  Eternity framed in domesticity.  Never mind.  One had to frame it in something, to see it at all." 

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Where it all started - the Florida road trips

Over the last few years our family has taken several road trips.  Traveling eight or nine hours with 3 children isn't always blissful, but it followed several years of virtually no travel at all, so I was just happy to have any excuse to cross the PA state line.  And, once we found a way to avoid the nightmare that is the D.C. beltway, I began to enjoy the journey.  It reminded me of the many Florida road trips we took when I was a child.

My dad's two brothers lived in Sarasota, and for over a decade we went down to visit them regularly.  The trips took place in the winter, naturally, and the first one I remember was when I was four or five, before my sister was born.  The memories are fuzzy, but include sliding into the back seat beside my great grandfather Daddy Wiker (this was the '70's, so no car seat needed), while my mom handed me a package for the road.  It contained a ballerina Barbie doll, my first and favorite.  She had a crown and little ballet slippers that would come off.  I was entranced.  At some point on the trip there were raspberry filled Archway cookies.  "Bought cookies" were a huge treat, since this was the only time we got them.  Archway cookies and car trips were linked in my mind for a long time.  I picked oranges from the tree, played along the edge of the ocean wearing a bathing suit my mother made for me, and accidentally sat on an ant hill.  Good times.

Sometime in the early 1980's my parents bought a two-tone brown station wagon. The back seat folded down, and the resulting space was big enough that all three children could stretch out and sleep.  A pattern evolved, whereby we would attend the Herr family Christmas in the evening, and then leave for Florida immediately afterward, between 9 and 10 at night.  We'd pile in the back of the car, holding new Christmas toys, and set out.  My grandparents lived about 30 minutes from the Maryland line, and we tried to be awake for the Baltimore Harbor Tunnel.  I often remember crossing into Virginia, but that was it.  If we were lucky, we'd sleep through Virginia and the Carolinas, and wake up somewhere in Georgia. 

Of course the night was punctuated by bathroom stops, or waking up briefly when dad pulled into a gas station.  I'm sure there were chain gas stations, but in my memory they are all small, independent stores, where it was always a toss up if the bathroom would be quasi decent or horrible.  I remember getting out of the warm car, into the freezing December night, and running with my mom to the bathrooms, which were often "around the back!"  Then, still half asleep, going back to the car and crawling thankfully under the blanket.  I can see my dad under the fluorescent lights, younger than I am now, standing by the car pumping gas and drinking from a gallon of Turkey Hill Iced Tea, so he could stay awake.  (He has never been a coffee drinker!)  Then, slowly getting warm again, and drifting off to sleep, hearing the thump of the tires underneath me and the whine of the road.

Getting through the rest of Georgia and Florida was tough, but mitigated by an exciting event:  we got to eat out.  I cannot emphasize the importance of a restaurant meal; seriously it was a big deal.  We. Never. Ate. Out.  At all.  When I was growing up, "eating out" meant being invited to someone's home for a meal.  I think I was 9 years old before I tasted a McNugget.  This was mostly due to finances, but also to the fact that there weren't many restaurants around us at the time. It was Willow Valley, the local diner, and a pizza shop or two.  I think the closest McDonald's was at East Towne Mall, 25 minutes away.  Now, when Lancaster is a veritable paradise of restaurants, that seems like another world.  So, having breakfast and possibly lunch out was a real treat.  We usually stopped at independent restaurants that served good breakfasts; I have only one specific memory from all our trips:  my brother ordered pancakes that came with scoops of "ice cream" on them, and we were so excited until we realized it was just butter. 

Back in the car, tired and a little grumpy, we settled in for the last leg of the trip.  By this time mom might drive a few hours, so dad could sleep.  We were to be quiet, reading books, playing small car games that mom surprised us with, eating a few snacks, and surreptitiously fighting over who got the window seats.  This was before children had to be strapped into car seats like little astronauts headed to Mars; we didn't even wear seat belts.  Usually my brother crawled into the back to stretch out, leaving Amy and me each with a window seat.  Finally, we played the alphabet game.  "J", "Q", "X" and "Z" were always the hardest letters, and when the first person shouted "Done" the rest of us would call "where did you find ..."?  Then came explanations ("didn't you see the Quality Inn sign?"), laughter, and the game began again.  Finally we crossed into Florida, and the last few hours crawled by.  I don't remember the exits, or the road we took, but I can picture the roads that ran by both uncle's houses.  The sky was blue, the air warm, the Spanish moss exotic.  We had arrived. 


Thursday, June 5, 2014

Time passages

Time softens the sharp edges of memory.  The harsh feel of stubble on the head, the long red scars, the bone aches from Neulasta, the shuffling post-surgical walk... they hover around the edges of my mind now, written down in journal scraps or facebook posts.

One of the reasons I began this blog was to work through unresolved issues from cancer.  It was only six months from diagnosis to final surgery, but the aftermath went on for much longer.  Any stressful life event causes fallout, long after we expect it to.  It was as if all the pieces in a kaleidoscope had shifted, and were falling around me.  I didn't want to shed any of those pieces - home, marriage, family, friends - but I had to find the new pattern.  It's harder than you might think. 

The past few years were a time of re-evaluation and processing all that happened, and trying to figure out what my purpose is now.  (Perhaps entering midlife had something to do with it too).  After a final surgery over a year ago, it began to feel as though a chapter had truly closed, on several levels.  Along with a sense of loss, there came a sense of renewed possibility.   As I worked around the house, ran, went about my life, I would stop sometimes, and look at the sky, so thankful for the ability to see its blue beauty.  A verse that seemed to define my life for the past number of years no longer applied; a new one did.  The children were growing up.  Life was moving on, and I was ready to move with it. 

Cancer invaded my life and will always be a part of who I am, but it does not define me.  There are some songs that are hard to sing, and every now and then a sudden memory will make me cry, but that's okay.  It just means I'm here, to experience the pain and the joy of life.  Change comes to all of us, even if it's not in such a dramatic way.  What I've learned, if anything, is that it is possible to survive something that looks overwhelming, and that life, in all its beautiful messiness, is a gift.

When I began to lose my hair, I went to my hairdresser and asked her to shave my head.  It wasn't empowering; it was grim.  My memory is of staring into the salon mirror, seeing a stranger...a bald woman.  In my mind rang the words  "Charm is deceptive and beauty is fleeting, but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised..."  I didn't care about any of that.  I wanted my hair and my old life back.  My hair is back, but not the same, and it took me five years to embrace that.  My life is not the same, and I embrace that too.  It's about new life that can be even better than the old. 

Saturday, March 22, 2014

What's in a blog name?

Last week during Sunday School the discussion led to my uttering the words "grinding horror."
"That," my brother said immediately, "would be a great title for a blog."  I thought about that on and off throughout the week, and realized that not only was he right, but that once you go down that trail, all sorts of possibilities emerge.  Here's my list of alternate blog names: 

Grinding Horror:  for those moments when life is the grinder and you're the coffee bean.

While the Butter Softens.

Ad-Libbed (in honor of my favorite Calvin and Hobbes strip, where the father is talking to his wife and says "I don't think I'd have been in such a hurry to reach adulthood if I'd known the whole thing was going to be ad-libbed.")

Still Life With Books.

Thinking and Driving.

As the Kitchen Sinks (inspired by an old Transformer cartoon where the Autobots are shown briefly watching a soap opera of the same name.  Hysterical.)

Mom, Interrupted.

So there you go.  What would your list look like?

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Potpourri of Thoughts

The first blog post of a new year should no doubt be pithy, funny, compelling, and of such high quality that it goes viral, and gets me a permanent invitation to blog somewhere important.   Ha.  Instead, I offer a potpourri of thoughts, in no particular order.  ("Is the noise in my head bothering you?")

The Long Winter seems the best book for the season.  I haven't been able to go running around the Acres since December because of the constant snow cover.  Branches are down everywhere, frozen in place.  There's a brief, tantalizing thaw, then "only kidding folks, back to Siberia for you" and it snows and freezes again.  Somewhere, a groundhog is congratulating itself on being right.  Despite this, I actually noticed signs of life in one flowerbed on the east side of the house.  Tiny green shoots are bravely trying to grow.  Spring always comes, even if sometimes it's later than we'd like.

I love road trips.  We took one to North Carolina a few weeks ago, and even traveling solo with 3 children was okay.  This probably goes back to the long Florida trips of my childhood, a topic which deserves its own post.  Now, I enjoy getting ready, packing, getting directions, and driving.  (Well, enjoy is maybe too strong a word.  Better to say I don't mind it).  The only task for the day is to get there safely, and I love having time to think.  I also prefer to take back roads whenever possible;  America is much more attractive when you get off the main highways.  We drove through Loudon County, VA, and the echoes of the Civil War were all around us, under the housing developments, over the mountain ridges, crossing the Potomac.

I hate conflict.  I hate when people misunderstand one another and when we can't find common ground.  Above all, I like niceness.  I wonder sometimes how godly that is.  And no, I don't want to talk any more about that right now. 

Middlemarch by George Elliot is one of those classic books that I tried to get into about 10 years ago, and couldn't.  I've been reading it again, slowly, over the past few weeks, and am really enjoying it!  Her characters are so well drawn, and her observations into human behavior are generally accurate.  I find myself laughing in recognition, and saying "Yes, that is how people behave!"  Perhaps you have to be a certain age to appreciate some of the classics?

Last year's trips to Europe were so wonderful they made me eager for more international travel.  Dreaming, yes, but you never know ... most great events start out as dreams.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Postcard from the airport

It's now been 25 hours since I've slept, so if this post is incoherent, that's the reason.  Still, what better way to pass the time till check in than to write?  So, faithful reader, here's a postcard from the airport.

As an infrequent traveler, who just finished her fifth flight ever, the novelty hasn't worn off.  The last 18 hours have been an almost complete disconnect from my normal life.  It's as if, when I walked onto the plane, I temporarily shed my identity.  No one here knows anything about me.  (Interestingly, people seem to assume I'm German, until I start speaking.  Must be the Hess and Herr coming out).  It's nice, at least for a short time.  No phone calls, no driving, no one asking me for snacks.  Instead, I'm being catered to, with free coffe, apples, coffeecake, and wifi at the USO.  The lack of domestic responsibility almost cancels out the jet lag. 

I'm aware, by the way, that if I was staying home with children and reading a friend's blog, even reading a complaint  about something like jet lag would probably come across like a size 2 complaining to a size 10 about how hard it was to find clothes that fit.  It would be a little hard to empathize.  ;)  I"m still pinching myself a little that we get to have this amazing opportunity/gift. 

Clothes and fashion always interest me, so I've been observing everyone's style.  If you want to dress like a European this fall, the two must-haves appear to be scarves and boots.  Any kind of boots.  They should be worn with slim pants, tights, or leggings.  Short hair is more popular over here too, so I feel right at home.

A cup of coffee is calling my name.  That's it for now.