What is it about snow falling?

What is it about falling snow that captivates the imagination like nothing else I know?  What is it about the first snowfall of the season- and the next and then the next that just creates a feeling of contentment and joy?  That fills a heart with gladness.  What is it about falling snow that just puts one in the mood for a seasonal celebration?

What is it about falling snow?

I think I know.  Because it certainly set the mood for our annual family Christmas decorating bonanza, brimming box upon box drug up the narrow cellar steps and then heaved across the worn kitchen floorboards to the eagerly waiting crew.  A flurry of fine dust particles and loose greenery settling on every inch of available floor space.  And then some.   Squeals of delight as a lost treasure or two is rediscovered.  The boughs hung with great care by the fireplace, anchored on either side by solemn brass candlesticks scavenged from a relative’s home in one of those years already gone by.  Back when there was little to none to decorate a humble home with.  The music playing on in the background while I sneak sips of eggnog and chocolate covered pretzels in between chores, hoping the Littles won’t notice.  Trying to get my second wind.

And then we all notice it- falling snow.

Gentle, steady- a work of marvelous wonder falling from the sky.  Exquisite.  Delicate.  Tiny- things of beauty.  What is it about snow falling?  Calling to us- beckoning an invitation to us that we ‘come’.

And come we do.  The Children run out of the house with snow pants too big or too little, and all the other essentials (Oh! with maybe a missing item or two, but who really cares?).  It’s snowing!  There are snowflakes to catch on curled tongues.  There are snow women to make, sleds to dust off and wreaths to hang.  There is fresh air to inhale deeply.  And evergreen boughs to cut.  There are kittens to watch, pouncing and crouching- hidden in the tracks made by excited girls as they pull each other along through that sticky, fresh stuff.  There are sled rides to take behind Daddy’s four-wheeler, circling around and around the barn yard with three kittens following closely behind.  There is snow to press into finely packed snowballs.

Falling snow.  How can something which is falling give one such a sense of peace and hope?  How can falling bring serenity?  For truly anything or anyone else that I’ve observed which has fallen down or fallen apart or fallen to pieces has caused me to feel great distress?

I watch the snow.

And I sense the stillness.  When things are falling, sometimes all that can be done is to stop and lean into the stillness.  To embrace the quiet.  And to let that which is falling, land where it may.  To let it find a place of rest.

Christmas is such a complicated season.  We want to love it so much, but there are times we just don’t.  We feel rushed and pulled and stretched and worn.  And sometimes we feel like we are fading.  Falling.  Like we are diminishing into less and less of us and becoming more and more of what is unrecognizable. Even to us.

There are simple pleasures like snow falling that bring such joy to our hearts.  We so often take these little moments for granted in the hustle and bustle of daily living.  But sometimes when we do find ourselves still- when we stop and notice: we find that everything inside us stops moving too.  That all the voices in our head tend to quiet.  All the anxiety starts to dissipate.  And the still- the calm washes over us like a billowing, rolling wave.  Allowing us to breathe.  To take it all in.

And we realize that we too have a soft place to land even when we are falling.  We too have a quiet place to stop and re-evaluate from whence we’ve come and to where we might be going.

And we too are exquisitely beautiful and unique and miraculous.  Just like all that falling snow.

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Bring back the good ole’ days: Suppertime at the Gards

I believe we are in desperate times, people. And desperate times call for desperate measures. And so it is with great verve and energy that I issue a battle cry for action.

It is time we took back what is rightfully ours, families of the world. It is time we re-claimed our rights to that all-important evening hour- a time once known as supper, which held the power in its reach to gather together people from diverse activities and places and in so doing, press the pause button on whatever other all-important, pressing concerns might have been going on at the time.

It’s time we got our supper hour back, good families. We need to come home.

Now. I don’t know about you, but I am not issuing this campaign because I am a glutton for punishment. I am no fool. Supper hour is not fun. There are fights which break out. Children whine about food choices. I get indigestion. Yada yada yada. The list goes on. And yes. I realize that there are many, many other variables at play here, too. And to add further fuel to the fire, I also realize that supper hour is also known as witching hour in some households with children under the age of five.

To be certain, there are parents who would rather hold their head over a whirling toilet bowl full of ‘who-knows-what’ than try to make their sanity last through the first shout out to ‘gimme the ketchup…and NOW’. I know. I am that mom. But still. I feel deep inside the recesses of my stone, cold heart a calling back of sorts. And it is an ache, really, for a simpler world. One in which the family all gathers round the sprawling table for an evening spread. Easy banter. Smiling faces. The chink of silverware as it hits the plate. Gulps of milk to wash it all down.

Wheretofore did these sounds all but disappear, my dear Martha (Stewart)? Where did it all go, Good Housekeeping magazine? Have we lost them entirely, my own dear Mother?

Tonight. The girls and I arrived home to the smells of spicy sausages. Call me absolutely crazy ( I know), but the last couple of days I have forgone my lunch break so as to slip home and throw some meat into the slow-cooker. Yesterday, it was some steaks. Today, I smothered two different varieties of homemade sausages (okay, store-bought ‘homemade’) with Sweet and Spicy hot sauce and a little more of this and that. And I threw the cover on before heading back to work at my day job.

At about 4:45, the two youngest and I arrived home to the smells of supper. And I felt this internal release as if I was a wind-up toy and the key had finally been released. I was home. It was supper. Let the games begin.

Now. You might be asking. Where was the other half of the good ole’ fam-damily. Well, one child was at gymnastics. And two others were at hockey. And what time was this, pray tell? Um…, you got it: 5:00 until 6:00. Supper hour.

So, I know. This is our life. We are on the road. In a rink. At a meeting. In a club. At school. Anywhere but home. Guilty as charged. I am writing this one for ME.

I need me some old-fashioned suppertime charm.

So here’s what really happened. While we waited for the other half of the family to return home, the girls and I ate our supper. And the plan was that the other three would eat when they arrived home at 6:00. But again, there was this knowing feeling inside me that I just couldn’t shake: is this what I want to do with my life? Is this the way supper was meant to be? Is there any chance that supper hour can be taken back and reclaimed as lost territory?

So here’s what happened next. I had to leave at 5:45 p.m. to pick up the one who was at gymnastics, and when I got home Husband mistakenly thought we all hadn’t eaten and had the table set for 6 (“Dreamer, nothin’ but a dreamer…”).

And that’s when the thought crossed my mind: we can do this. We can have ‘something’ together. It doesn’t have to be supper to make this work. So I thought fast and came up with the perfect plan. Hot chocolate. We could all have hot chocolate together. And isn’t that just the perfect replacement anyway for the evening meal?

Let.them.eat.chocolate.

Works like a charm.

And while there really is no substitute for that all-important evening meal, hot chocolate works in a pinch. And it’s really all about the gathering anyway, is it not?

At least that’s the view from here.

Enjoy the Ride

We’re driving.  The road, a seemingly endless stretch of gray in front of us.  There’s certainly not much to see on either side.  And I am bemoaning to the Boy the fact that all the leaves have fallen off the trees.  It had been so pretty, I say to him, just a week or so ago.  And now they’re gone.

It’s the rare afternoon that he and I can share the time together- he being busy with other more interesting boy-ish things.  Me, being the Mama- fully divided in fifty ways or more.  But today, it’s just us.  And we are driving home together.  No loud voices competing for attention in the back.  No radio blaring.  No screams of delight or agony from the Peanut Gallery.  Just the quiet voices of a Boy and his Mama casually sharing an October afternoon.

Earlier, I watched him with his school soccer team as they kicked-off to start the game.  They would later bring home the bronze for their school in a victorious finish to a great season. But at this moment: I am just watching, listening and absorbing it all.  Taking in this moment of my life- just me and my boy.

And while I drive, I think back to that chat I had with a Mom sitting next to me on the bleachers just a few short hours ago- about this and that and nothing of any real importance.  And I remember how it came up in conversation that she has only one child at home now.  All her’s are grown, she said to me.  To which I told her I am not looking forward to that time- I am not ready yet for nearly empty nest.  And she assured me ‘it’s all good’ and that when the time comes I will be glad there are no dirty dishes in the sink waiting to be washed.  Glad there isn’t a heap of dirty laundry clogging up my washing machine.

But I didn’t buy this line at that moment and I still don’t now.  I’m not ready for all that.  I’m still here.  And so is he.  And we are driving a gray stretch of pavement on a Saturday afternoon in mid-October and I can’t think of one other place I’d rather be.  A mom with too much to do on a Saturday afternoon who still has all the time in the world for her boy.  How much longer will I have this luxury?

And as I casually remark that I wish there were more leaves to see as we drive passed this wooded lot, the Boy says to me: “If you just stop focusing on what’s close up and look farther down the road, you’ll see that it really is quite pretty.”

And I know that he’s right- it’s all a matter of perspective.  And it’s not about how beautiful the leaves were last week or how dreary they might be right now, or even how gorgeous they will be again next year: it’s about perspective.  Seeing what’s around us in the moment we are living.  It’s about noticing.  And not wishing for yesterday or tomorrow, but holding on to today.  It’s about realizing that what is passed is now gone but tomorrow is soon on its way.  It’s about holding on to what we have today: right now.  And there’s nothing like it.  That gift of the present.

I stop my lament for the leaves then. I stop looking for beauty and see that I already have it within reach.

And I lean back and enjoy the ride.

I Teach to Reach

I had exactly seven minutes. I told Husband to park near the door so we could bolt as soon as I was done shopping, as in the back of my mind I was already planning the second half of the evening. The part where I would get to be a real adult and have conversations that lasted longer than five minutes with other like-minded individuals. Around a campfire. At night. Exciting. I don’t get out often.

I had one thing on the list. So of course I ended up with about ten things in the cart. I ran up and down the aisles, arms loaded with cleaning supplies, coffee and the desired item: a plastic table covering to replace the ratty looking old one in our eating area. I was trying to hurry. Seven minutes stretched to ten and then fifteen. There are a lot of things to look at in Walmart. It’s such a distracting store to shop in.

As I was going through the cash, I concentrated on getting everything on the conveyer belt as close to the cashier as possible so that I could grab my bags and run through the doors to the get-away vehicle, er’ family get-along van, directly following the purchase.

But I never counted on this happening. I never counted on the conversation I was about to have at the check-out counter.

“Will that be all?”
“Oh yes, thank you. That’s it for tonight.”

And then I smile, he smiles, and I can see a flicker of recognition in both our eyes. I am unsure, and also in a hurry. But he is not. He makes the first move to take our conversation past the practical.

“Did you ever teach at Westisle?” he asks.

I teach kindergarten at Bloomfield. It’s been a long time since I worked at Westisle Composite High School, and when I did, I mostly supply taught. I think he has mistaken me for Husband, so I say so. But then he tells me it’s been seven years since he’s graduated, and no, Husband did not teach him. So it must have been me then.
Well then.
He proceeds to tell me what his father is now doing and what his current status is as an adult. No longer the young teenaged boy I remember. We have a delightful conversation.

It is quite something to be recognized as someone’s teacher. Particularly seven years and three schools later. I am flattered. I hope he truly did like me as I am assuming he possibly did by the smile. And I secretly hope I actually taught him something.

And then I realize something. Two things actually. I probably never taught him anything, and if I did, he more than likely has forgotten it by now. And then this. I think the more likely reason he remembers me is due to the policy I have kept to over the years of making it a priority to invest my time in people while valuing relationships- because it really does make a difference. It’s what sticks long after the lesson plan is over, after the conversations have ended.

People love people who truly care. And I have tried my darndest to be that kind of teacher.

Caring about people might not ever win me any awards or accolades as a teacher. But it pays back in the myriad relationships I have formed with students and friends and colleagues. I might teach content and curriculum- readin’ writin’ and ‘rithmetic’, but my real job is people. And it’s what makes my job as a teacher less of an employment and more of a calling.

I teach to reach.

Anyone can teach, but it takes deliberate intention to reach. You reach people through kindness, compassion and love. Teaching people is fun and exciting, but reaching people is absolutely mind-boggling. I know because I have had in the past, teachers that reached out to me. Little did they know that I would one day pay it forward. Kindness is like that.

It truly pays to be kind. A million times over.

Kindness is an amazing philosophy to living one’s life. Kindness should be done without any thought of reciprocation. But when it does come back, you realize that kindness is kind of like a boomerang. When you throw it out there you never know when you might see it return. It might return to you when you least expect it: at Walmart when by chance you run into a former student in the check-out line. Or at the shopping mall when you happen to run into an old acquaintance. Or at a concert where a former classmate from the by-gone days happens to be standing right next to you in line. And funny about that but- people in these situations always seem to remember you, even if you don’t recall who they are.

So it really does matter that you were nice to them once upon a time long, long ago.

At times like these, it also pays to be willing to slow down and look into the person’s eyes, acknowledging the marvelous individual they are without rushing away to quickly. Impromtu conversations like these ones don’t happen when people storm their way through check-out counters or line-ups or hold-ups of any kind. These kinds of things need time so as to perculate a bit. They need a bit of thought. And they require some effort.

Because the bottom line is this: people matter. They matter immeasurably at every age. And the ways in which people view us also matter because to some extent those views define us as people too. That is, the ways in which we treat people will always be the ways in which other people perceive us as individuals. So if we are kind, then we will be known as thoughtful and caring. If we are patient and calm with people, then we will be known as composed and serene. If we are interested and genuine in our conversations with others, they will come to see us as authentic.
And the negative reverse of each of the above is of course true also.

As I was leaving Walmart, I turned to the cashier- my former student, and I thanked him. I thanked him for speaking to me. It takes courage to approach a stranger even if the odds are good. And it also takes a considerable measure of kindness to make someone else’s day brighter by acknowledging them and caring enough to tell them why they matter to you. It speaks volumes about who you are and what you value. And it reminds those of us who believe in compassion and caring that kindness is lot like a boomerang. It always returns to you. It always comes back.

So make sure you do it: pay kindness forward.  It’s worth the effort.

More Than I Can Imagine…

I was dreading it.  One more obligation.  One more thing to do.  And although I believe the mantra ‘we can do hard things’, there are times when I just want an easy thing.  One.easy.thing.   Amidst all the hard things in life.  All those things that pull me eight ways to Sunday.

And as I sat there thinking self-defeating thoughts, mentally beating myself up again for all my inadequacies and inabilities.   God just lifted it.  The cloud.  He lifted it.  Physically- as if before my very eyes.    As if a torrent of rain had been falling and quite by sudden, a sunburst had appeared.  For the storm was over.  And I knew.

God doesn’t call us into a spirit of fear.  Of guilt.  Of hopelessness.

He calls us to empowerment.  To love and capability.  And He isn’t standing over us shouting out orders, reminding us again and again of all our failings.  Of all the ways in which we haven’t added up.

And He isn’t trying to dream up more hard things for me to do.

He’s there to do the hard things for me.

He is there to ease the load.  Lighten the weight.  He is there to take me as I am, where I am.  As is.  And love me all the more for my weakness.

And He’s there to do more.  So much more.  Than I could ever begin to imagine.

Evidence that I Parented Much, Lately.

Ten evidences that I have ‘parented’ in the last twenty-four hours…

10.) Although I picked both daughters up late for Birthday Party # 1 (let’s just say…I am use to seeing the cell phone out and panicked looks on my children’s faces) and then dropped one daughter off at the wrong entrance for Birthday Party #2 (causing her to miss one hour and fifteen minutes of said party and scoring a slice of pizza the size of a garlic finger for My Bad…), I did remember to retrieve both and bring them home at the end of the day.  (Dirty looks abound…)

9.) Although I was responsible for Latter Daughter not getting supper at said b-day bash, I did dodge the mosquitoes and frigid Island June weather to buy milkshakes all around from the Dairy Royale.  (Score!  And I’m back in.)

8.) Although I remembered the edible art supplies for my daughter’s L.A. landscape project made from common grocery items(think: mouldy bread covered in jam, then sprinkled with hardened brown sugar rocks that are better suited for a construction site project…), I forgot to plan an essential trip to Foodland for the main ingredients. (Back in the red…)

7.) But due to eaves-dropping on a convo’ between two colleagues re. a trip to the corner grocery store, I managed to pass my grocery list to one Sweetheart who offered to pick up the finishing touches to said project so that my daughter could eek a passing mark out of this project.

6.) But, because everyone was hungry and we had not time to stop for a burger, I gave the groceries to my children to eat.  Which they proceeded to devour with concerning ferocity.  And maybe I might have eaten a little too. (So long!, art project.  So long!, passing marks…)

5.) Since I am awesome at smoothing things over, I promised Daughter of the Art Genius that I would get the art supplies even if that meant I would leave at recess to go purchase the necessities…pleading with said Daughter to state my case to her lovely teacher (Rehearse: “Busy weekend, no time, stressed to the max”  And again…!)

4.) Didn’t have time to go to the store.  Met teacher in the hall instead.  Panicked.  Told her I ate the homework.

3.) Made an emergency trip to Foodland.  Bought the groceries.  Roundtrip: exactly 4.37 minutes.

2.)Then had a brainwave of creativity.  Saw broccoli on sale.  Thought it might be useful.  Purchased a pretty sad looking pair of stocks.  Hoped daughter might think in terms of environmental restoration and use them as filler.

1.) Dropped off the bag only to have teacher ask, “What’s the broccoli for?  Am I suppose to look after this until the end of the day?”  At which point I realized she thought I had also bought our supper.  I guess it would be a plausible theory.  So, we ended up eating it anyway…in a stir-fry.  At which point my daughter asked, “Is this broccoli from my ART Project?

And so I say.  Here’s the proof.  I parented much, baby.  I did.  And I got the broccoli to prove it.

A few words on gratitude…

I am steering the van towards after-school destination numero deux in project “My Life as a Chauffer.”   A tired Kindergartener rides solo in the backseat, a motley assortment of Foodland bags/backpacks/other odds and ends ride shotgun in the passenger side.  And all the while, Veggie Tales blares in the background.  One male character says to his sidekick, “Do you think she’ll like me?”    To which comes the response, “She has to like you…under order of banishment or imprisonment.”

I wish I could jump into the script and wring that little gourd’s rubbery neck.  But I resist.   Because in a world of cartoon characters, it is that easy.  To draw the lines, shade in the edges and round out the scene.  If you want it to happen, it will happen.  Just write it in the script.  If you want a happy ending, wave the magic wand.  Done.

If only life were so easy.

And when real life is factored into the equation.  And the show is over and real-life begins.  That’s when the truest test of character is evidenced.  When the chips are down, and everything is laid bare to the raw bones.  It’s when we are at our lowest that we see what stuff we’re really made of.

Can we truly find joy even in weariness?

It’s the gradual wearing away, the erosion of patience and understanding and empathy that really hurts.  The endless trips we make back and forth, from home to goodness know where else.  It’s the lack of time for meaningful conversations.  The sleepless nights.  The gray hair.  It’s the little things that wear us down and make it hard to be thankful.

Living life with gratitude sometimes means one must offer thanks at the most un-opportune moments. Uttering words of gratitude even for those things in life of which one is not always fully enjoying, passionately loving, deriving pleasure or benefiting greatly from nor receiving back a large measure of happiness.  Sometimes we give thanks for the smallest of things.  And in the one item of thankfulness, it can often more than balance the scales in the long run.  Life lived in gratitude is the truest measure of joy.

Tonight.  I am thankful for:

  1. My ignorant bliss this morning as I slept in almost an hour past my alarm.  My body needed that little bit extra.
  2. Not losing my patience as I coped with having slept in way past what I should have done.
  3. Nutri-grain bars. Great breakfast option on the run.
  4. That domino game I forgot about.  As I also forgot my math teacher’s edition, it was a great pinch-hit for a harried teacher.
  5. My colleague who offered me a domino worksheet last Thursday.  Whoever would have dreamed it would’ve come in so handy (#loveyoumarlenewarren)
  6. Five-year old helpers.  Who are almost already out the door even before I get my thoughts out of my head and into words.
  7. A husband who packed my lunch today.  And always.
  8. Cell-phones that are not broken.
  9. Schedules that allow windows of opportunity.
  10. Supper meals without fighting.

 

And these, dear friends, are just a few of my favorite things.