the cosmic Target lane

On the way to our ever-present Target, there is a double right turn lane. If you go into the far right one, you can turn right on red. If you choose the other, you can’t. Which one I choose depends on my level of urgency. It’s kind of a cosmic test, really. Today, I chose the left one. The person tailgating me chose the right. Big surprise there.

I just felt no need to gain that extra forty seconds. But why? I was in a hurry. In the course of the day I had to: finish book edits and email them, pack for a four-day trip, cook dinner for my family for said four days, run errands, shop for an outfit to perform a wedding in, and go to an art exhibit. In addition to the “normal” stuff.

But I felt patient. And it started me to wonder, have you ever noticed that your patience level doesn’t seem to matter whether or not you are actually pressed for time? If I don’t feel stressed, even if I know in my head I have a hundred and one things to do in the day, it just doesn’t translate into impatience. On the other hand, if I let myself feel overloaded, I get cranky. And no one likes me in cranky mode. The circumstances can be exactly the same. The not-so-common denominator is attitude.

Which makes me wonder again. If I chose a patient attitude as soon as I felt stressed, might I be a nicer person? This seems kind of elementary. But most things are that we still fail to practice. Good manners aren’t rocket science. They’re just tough on the execution level. But execution is a choice, always will be. We tend to assume it just happens–that we’re at the whim of circumstances, other people, hormones, genetics. But really, we’re at the whim of only ourselves. The key word in the paragraph above was let myself feel overloaded.

So, I think may try it. It sure felt better today to be me in the left lane than I imagine that woman felt in the right, needing to tailgate me to get one minute ahead.

Of course, thirty seconds later I sat in the left turn lane widening my eyes and thinking, The arrow just turned green, people. Lets go! So clearly this patience thing has some work to go.

How do you create patience under stress?

barn doors and broccoli

Don’t close the barn door after the horse is gone. Better late than never. What did you learn from these proverbs you probably heard as a child?

You learned that people can say totally opposite things and both believe they’re right, thus truly confusing the rest of us. This is what I’m re-learning right now as I read two different books on how we should eat.

The first one, Food Matters by Mark Bittman, argues that we need to eat less meat and make more careful meat choices in order to survive as a planet. He also explains lots of things we really do not want to put into our bodies, mostly things with more than ten letters in their names that anyone without a chemistry degree cannot pronounce. Unrefined grains and fruits and vegetables are the best diet for the body and the planet, according to Bittman.

The second, Fat to Skinny by Doug Varrieur,, encourages me to eat more meat and little to no grain or sugar. (Fruits carry quite a bit of sugar, by the way.) Pretty much anything else goes.

So, to whom do I listen? Well, the first author makes sense, and I definitely feel like he’s correct about the dangerous path we’re on as a collective people with our eating habits. However, listening to the second has caused me to lose ten pounds, a feat I have not managed in the last four years with any other plan. So, who’s right?

And my conclusion is that they both are. Which is also true of the proverbs above, right? Some things are never too late, while others cause lifelong regret. The trick is in knowing how to discern which is which before it’s too late. If, in fact, it’s ever too late. See what I mean?

So, I’m making peace with both. Less meat with more concern for its origin. More homemade and fewer chemicals. More raw veggies. (No, neither author forbids me to cook them. I just don’t like cooked vegetables. A serious flaw in any plan to become a vegetarian.) And at least until goal achieved, very few carbs. Both authors can live with that. And so can I.

One is making me more conscious of how what I eat impacts the earth and my body. The other is making me lose weight, finally. I endorse both.

What conflicting advice have you had to make peace with?

more lesson from english class

I have always loved the poem “Mending Wall” by Robert Frost. But I have never agreed with the antagonist’s assumption, “Good fences make good neighbors.” My sympathy flowed with the writer, who sensibly stated,

Before I built a wall I’d ask to know

What I was walling in or walling out.”

Now, though, I may understand the other guy.

Shortly after our new neighbors moved in, I murdered all the turf grass and weeds in our front ditch area and planted it full of rescued prairie plants. It was going to be an awesome display of flowering awesomeness, and mower-free as a bonus.

Until the day I got home and found that someone had scraped all the topsoil away, along with the plants, and reseeded it in grass. Huh? It didn’t take long to figure out it was our neighbor. It helped that we had an eyewitness.

A lot of work had gone into that planting. And the plants had been free; we could not afford to replace them. What was he thinking by coming onto our property and treating it as his own?

I could have caused trouble. But, I figure you probably don’t mess with a guy named Rocky who owns a construction company. First, that means he is big. Second, he has access to backhoes and other large machinery to make sure if he had to bury you in the back forty, he could. And no one would ever know. Oh, did I mention several hunting rifles, too?

Besides, I really do try to live by the motto of “kill them with kindness.” Or, as Jesus put it better, “Love your enemies.” Most of the time.

I killed the new grass and started over. I am stubborn. And, a couple years later, it looks good. But he has since built a fence so he can keep his perfect green lawn on his side, and I can keep my prairie and gardens on mine. And though I didn’t like the idea at first, I realize now, sometimes good fences do make good neighbors.

Sometimes, we actually get along better with someone if we have boundaries that tell one another, “This is my space, and this is yours.” I don’t like it. I am naturally a wall-breaker. But sometimes.

Sometime, there are situations and temptations in our lives that are the same. We need to draw a fence around them and tell ourselves, “Keep out.” It’s best for both sides. I didn’t get that when I taught “The Mending Wall” to high school kids. Now, I think I do.

Do you have a favorite poem? Something one taught you that you still remember?

into the weeds

Yesterday I mowed the lawn. Not earth shaking, I realize. But when you haven’t mowed the lawn for a month due to the fact that the mower has to be jumped every single time you want it to start, and given that I am terrified of jumping it myself because I am certain it is going to explode in my face though I have plenty of evidence to the contrary, well, it hasn’t gotten done.

So into the midst of this backyard meadow I rolled, and soon I spied a frog jumping out from under the mower. I do not want to run the lawnmower over a frog. Besides the obvious gross factor of frog parts squishing out the side (no jokes about frog legs for dinner please), I am basically a kind person. I cried for over an hour when I accidentally ran over a rabbit four years ago. My husband assumed I was having a psychotic episode born of the fear that I was going to leave my kids and die just like the rabbit. (It was a couple weeks before my transplant surgery.) “No,” I sobbed, “I killed a bunny! Isn’t that enough reason to be so upset?” Apparently not. Bambi must not have been a big influence in his childhood. But then, he grew up in a state where antlers are haut décor. What did I expect?

Every time I passed that particular spot, the frog hopped just far enough out of the way and further into the tall grass. For nothing would he hop into the grass that was already mown. To him, that was the dangerous territory. The tall grass where he could hide was the safe zone. Except in reality, it could not have been more the opposite. Real danger lay where the mower had not yet passed.

So, how do I act like a frog? Hopping toward danger that looks safe when hopping the other way, into what looks scary to my mind, is the better path? What comes to mind first is my instinct to flee confrontation any way possible. It’s safe, right? No one will get mad at you; no one disagrees. Telling the truth about what I need or want or feel is scary. I have no idea if I’ll get run over by a ticked off lawnmower. But through lots of experience avoiding it, I now know avoiding the truth comes at a far higher price.

Sometimes I feel like God is looking on me saying, “No, you idiot! Don’t jump into that! Jump toward the scary stuff. That’s really where I’ll keep you safe.”

Are you a frog? I’d love to know how, and to know I’m not the only one.

details, details

My daughter just took a ten-hour bus trip across Guatemala to reach the agency she’ll be serving with for the next three months. During out first phone conversation, I casually (I thought) mentioned, “I suppose I shouldn’t ask about the bus trip.”

“No, well, there’s a reason I didn’t include every detail in the email.”

Which is to say—Mom, no you don’t want to know. There are some things about which you would prefer to remain in blissful ignorance. And the funny thing is, that’s true.

I know what imagine. I imagine it resembled the road we saw this summer at Hurricane Ridge, on the Olympic Peninsula. Obstruction Pass Road. I mean really, doesn’t the name tell you something? Something that’s an obstruction just willfully intends to be difficult, right?

To be fair, all the literature about this particular road (and I use the term ‘road’ to mean ‘gravel path someone sarcastically refers to as a road just to see who will attempt to drive down it in an Airstream’) warned: Unless you have a real off-road vehicle, do not even attempt this drive. Meaning, if you hail from the suburbs and truly believe in your heart your Hyundai Tucson can go off-roading, you are delusional. Turn back.

Oh, and a death wish. You should have one of those, too. As I have neither, and as that morning the fog was thick enough that you would not even see a guardrail two feet from your car if one did exist, (they didn’t) I declined. (By the way, Obstruction Pass Road is not the one to the left in the top picture. It’s the one that veers to the right–and disappears somewhere down the mountainside.)

Add to that random kidnappers and bandits (which typically do not exist in the Olympic National Forest, except for some rogue elk) and you get my idea of this road she took in Guatemala. But I choose not to imagine.

Have you had this odd psychosis as a parent? You really choose not to know? Sure, after the fact, when we can swap stories. But at the time it’s all coming down, do you want to know the dangers your kids may be in?

Our daughter is so happy making connections with and serving people who are very different from herself. She is discovering much about the world around and inside her. These are good things. These are the things I want to know about. And I can live with the unease that these good things don’t always come safely or easily. As long as I don’t have to know the details.

I’d love to know how you handle this puzzle.

goodbye, thing 2

I’m a cryer. I cry over movies, books, and TV shows. I cry when I give a speech or preach a sermon. I have been known to cry over a well-dramatized commercial. So when I resolved not to shed a tear at the airport bidding child #2 goodbye for a 3 1/2 month mission trip to Guatemala, I doubted my chances of success. Full leave, you understand, to lose it when she was out of sight dealing with the TSA (on her own), but I refused to make her feel bad about what she was doing by dissolving in front of her.

Just made it. And now, at what child #3’s facebook status puts at 99 days, 12 hours, and 43,521seconds until her return, I have found it is not as I expected it to be. I expected sadness. Tears. Quiet. A feeling that something was not quite right. More tears. What I did not expect was the physical pain. The three-day upset stomach. The lethargy that has nothing to do with the intense knee pain from two days in a cramped car. The profound sadness deeper than tears, which come so randomly anyway at all times. And now I understand just what that phrase “deafening silence” really means.
No one is singing Disney songs at the top of her (very powerful) lungs. No one is finishing my sentences. No one is quoting Austen, Tolkien, and Monty Python at me all in the same conversation. So, perhaps in the interest of all parents who have said goodbye to an offspring lately, I should compile a list of the good things.
–No one is hogging the bathroom for 45 minutes every day.
–No one is leaving her dirty socks, computer cords, dishes, and schoolbooks all over five rooms and then not knowing where they are. (The books, that is. She has never cared where the dirty socks and dishes are.)
–No one is using the car and computer that belong to her. So, extra for us.
–No one is telling me, “Oh, by the way, you’re driving ten of my friends to the movie in a half hour. And could you stop and get some food for us, too?”
But let’s face it. Not one thing is better here because she is gone into the world in her own.
But the world is better. And isn’t that the tradeoff we hope to make as parents?
It hurts like real grief always hurts. But it means, while everything feels all wrong, it is indeed all right.