Dancing for Her Mama

There are few things that give me greater joy – and I mean deep down, inexplicable, happy-licious all the way to my toes joy – than watching my daughter dance. I mean it! I love to watch her throw her whole self into the carefree, delightful business of celebrating the joy of the moment in the moment … cuttin’ a rug on the dance floor with her friends without a worry in the world.

Growing up in a very conservative Pentecostal home, I was not allowed to dance. Nope. My parents said we didn’t “believe” in it. I wasn’t aware of this until 7th grade, when the first school dance of the year was announced and I excitedly went home to tell my mother. My friends and I had talked about it all the way home on the school bus – what we were going to wear, how we were going to do our hair, who was willing to share their lipstick and blue eye shadow … I was pumped! But three little words – “You’re not going” – took the wind out of my sails pretty darn quick.

It had never been an issue before. I took square dancing in gradeschool, but apparently that didn’t count. Dancing on a dance floor (or junior high gymnasium), with the lights turned low, suggestively shaking body parts with members of the opposite sex to K.C. and The Sunshine Band was strictly forbidden. End of story. My parents were firm, immovable, non-negotiable. There would be no discussion. We. Did. Not. Do. That. Kind Of Thing.

And so I didn’t. I won’t elaborate further, but suffice it to say it was a Pretty Big Deal.

Let me say right up front that I had a wonderful childhood and wonderful parents. I always knew I was loved, even when I felt I wasn’t liked. And I have great memories of growing up in the house on Summerville Road. But my adolescent years were difficult ones for me, and some of those well intentioned restrictions stifled me in ways I felt were especially unbearable. My parents had rules, and I followed them … most of the time.

There wasn’t much room for teenage rebellion at our house, but I did manage a little bit of clandestine behaviour. I rolled my bermuda shorts up and borrowed a friend’s bikini when I was at church camp. On Friday nights, I “dragged the gut” with Tami Gheen when we were supposed to be at a bible study. I kissed Chuck Brooks. And he was black.

But I never, never, ever once snuck myself out to a school dance. NEVER! And if I had, I wouldn’t have known what do once I got there … and therein lies the root of my lament. I’m 50 years old and I don’t know how to dance. This goes beyond knowing how to do the two step, the hustle, the shuffle, the tango, the fox trot and the macarena. Sure, I could take a class at the community college and learn a few steps. And maybe I will. But what I don’t know how to do, because I never learned, is how to dance … with abandon .. to kick up my feet, toss my hands in the air, and shake my bootie to the music FOR THE SHEAR JOY OF IT!

I parented a little differently than my folks – I like to think that I picked my issues carefully (of course, my daughter may have an entirely different opinion!). No, you CANNOT GET YOUR NOSE PIERCED or wear tiny little t-shirts that show the WHOLE WORLD your navel, but dancing … you betcha! So, when it came time for Tori to attend her first dance in middle school, it was a big night for both of us. As I dropped her off that Friday evening in front of her school, I leaned around to the back seat and said, “Tonight you get to do something I never got to do and I am VERY excited for you. I trust you completely, and I’m giving you permission to dance until they stop the music. Now go in there and dance for your mama!”

Over the years, I chaperoned many school dances and always loved watching Tori dance. I remember one evening in particular when she and her boyfriend Kyle were in rare form – the crowd parted and clapped to the beat of the band, and in the center of the dance floor were those two kids dancing like crazy! And boy were they good!

When Tori was born, I hung a little picture on the wall of her nursery that said, “God Danced the Day You Were Born.” The Old Testament says that Samuel “danced before the Lord,” the book of Ecclesiastes tells us that there is a “time to weep and a time to dance,” in Exodus Miriam “took up the timbral and danced”, in Psalms we’re told that our mourning is turned to dancing, and my favorite … in the New Testament, the prodigal son was greeted with music and DANCING when he returned home to his father’s house. The truth is, I think God does a lot more dancing than we know. In fact, I think He believes in it.

I share this because a few weeks ago, my daughter posted a picture on Facebook of herself dancing at a friend’s wedding … and in a nano-second I was transported back to the parking lot of Siuslaw Middle School, dropping off my girl, and telling her to dance for her mama. She’s a Big City girl now, a 25 year old CPA with a promising career and an impressive 40lk, and a dog named Spiffy. She loves to throw parties and feed her friends. She loves adventure, and travel, and celebrating momentous occasions. She loves making the people around her feel special. And she LOVES to dance!

I have no idea where she gets it.

The Things I Cannot Change

In my late 20s, I was introduced to the Serenity Prayer adopted by Alcoholics Anonymous and similar 12-step groups, and attributed to Reinhold Niebuhr. You know the one …

“God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.”

I’ve had a lot of opportunity over the last 50 years of my life to pray this prayer, to ponder it, to prove it, to break it down and analyze its parts, to eat, sleep and breathe it, to plead it, to share it, and to make it my own. It has been my mantra through a myriad of physical challenges and personal heartbreaks.

But that second line has always tripped me up a bit. I’m a Get-in-and-Get’er-Done, Let’s-Make-It-Happen, Be-The-Change-You-Want-To-See-in-The-World Kinda Gal. Give me a project and GET OUT OF THE WAY. Nothing is impossible, if you can believe it you can achieve it … yada yada yada …

Every once in a while, I have to extract myself from my crazy, on-the-go life and head off to my “home away from home” to re-fuel and wrap my head around the stuff I cannot change. A few years ago, my hubby and I renovated a cozy little cottage we call “Seamist” overlooking the Pacific Ocean, a short 20 minute drive from our home. The demands of our work make it difficult for us to take “real” vacations, so Seamist is our spur-of-the-moment getaway, and the place I often go to re-center my life. If the weather is amenable, I walk down to the beach, plant myself in the sand, and listen.

In the quiet moments that I spend in contemplation, I breathe through the process of accepting the things I cannot change. Over the years, I have accepted that I cannot make someone love me, and that I cannot protect my child from everything or spare her heartache. I have accepted my physical limitations and my losses. I have accepted grief, and change. Lots of it. And I have come to believe that the secret to life is twofold: the ability to accept change and loss, and the ability to move forward with gratitude.

I am grateful for second chances, and do-overs. For a chance to love and be loved by a truly beautiful man. For a home that is a haven for my family and a gathering place for my friends. I am thankful for my health and my mobility, and for the lessons in humility and surrender that I have learned through great suffering. It has deepened my character and given me a compassion and sensitivity to the suffering of others that I might never have experienced any other way. I am grateful for peace of mind and quiet confidence and an unwavering belief in the miraculous. It has given me courage to step into uncharted territory, to lead without a personal agenda, and share generously without worrying about how much it’s going to cost me.

There is a second part to the Serenity Prayer, something I didn’t know until my father passed away. I discovered it when I was writing his eulogy 11 years ago. It goes like this …

“Living one day at a time;
Enjoying one moment at a time;
Accepting hardships as the pathway to peace;
Taking, as He did, this sinful world
as it is, not as I would have it;
Trusting that He will make all things right
if I surrender to His Will;
That I may be reasonably happy in this life
and supremely happy with Him
Forever in the next.”

So I sit on the beach, with my toes in the warm pebbles, and work through the accepting of life “as it is, not as I would have it.” It’s not always an easy thing to do for this Get-in-and-gitter’done-kinda-gal!

And because I trust that He will make all things right, I surrender … and receive what I came for.

Old Stuff

I love old stuff. I understand if you don’t (not everyone does) but I’m drawn to it like a kid to cotton candy. I love the rush of anticipation I get when I arrive at a flea market in my grubbies, latte in one hand and pulling my little red wagon with the other … my husband says I become a heat-seeking missile. I am focused and single-minded. There’s a treasure out there waiting to be found, and by golly I’m going to be the one to find it! Don’t bother me with Beany Babies and Tupperware lids, I’m lookin’ for cool stuff, old stuff, and good stuff!

I started “pickin'” as a kid, long before I knew what “picking” was. My first purchase? A blue willow plate for $2. My second? A Brownie camera for 25 cents. I was nine and had just finished reading a book called, of all things, “The Blue Willow Plate”, a story about a young girl during the depression who was mesmerized by her mother’s one prized possession. I saw that blue willow plate on a table at a neighborhood garage sale and couldn’t believe my good fortune! That plate travelled with me through my childhood and teen years, graced the wall of every kitchen I’ve called home, and eventually took up permanent residence in my china hutch. And the Brownie camera went to camp with me every summer and chronicled my life’s story in pictures until it was replaced by a fancy-schmancy Minolta 35-mm that took me years to learn how to use.

As much as I love The Hunt, there’s nothing quite like the euphoria I feel when I SCORE a real treasure. It’s truly a visceral response. I can still remember my elation upon finding an old check register in an abandoned homestead in Eastern Oregon … preserved by the elements so that I could still easily read the entries from 1929. Who did it belong to? What drew them to this place in the middle of No-Where, and how did they manage to sustain themselves in such a desolate area during such desolate times? This is the Stuff of Life that fascinates me.

I’m drawn to the textures of old linens, embossed writing on old books, and the porous salt glaze of aged pottery. I love tarnished silver and rusty tools, the artwork on old sheet music, and wooden crates and boxes that say stuff like “Remington” on the sides. I love to haggle and dicker (these are technical terms) and then drag it all home. I even love hearing my hubby, saint that he is, say those oft repeated words, “Uh, where are you planning to put THAT???” as I unload the contents of my car into the living room. And kitchen. And …. well, you get the idea.

Let me be clear, not all old stuff is good stuff. And one woman’s treasure is often another’s trash. Beauty is most certainly in the eyes of the beholder, and what may call to me across a farm field of rusty implements may hold no appeal to you. But I find comfort in the inherent beauty of an old brown pitcher that has graced the kitchen table of many a family over the years, and served is owners’ well for generations. It has been the silent guest at a hundred family suppers and held more than a few bouquets of prized roses and dahlias lovingly snipped from the backyard garden before it came into my appreciative hands. And it deserves what I am going to give it … a new home!

Sanctuary

A few years back, I decided to extend my living space outdoors and create a sanctuary garden. I LOVE working in the dirt, creating vignettes within nature, planting and waiting, and watching things grow. I am by nature a nester and a tender of things. But living at the coast on a quarter acre of sand and salal creates some unique challenges for a cottage gardener, and I was at a loss as to how to begin. So I called a local landscaper, who started the process by clearing the salal and brush, moving a few rhodies, and drawing me a Plan. Having a Plan was a strategic move on my part to help sell the concept to the Nice Catholic Boy I had the good sense to marry. I thought that if I could just get him to visualize what I had in mind, maybe he'd have a little enthusiasm for the project and get behind it (this is the same man who can't understand why I would want to paint over "perfectly good" white walls … but I digress). Before he became a surveyor, my hubby was a landscaper, and I knew I was stepping on his toes by bringing in an outsider to help me with this. But, doggone it, I wanted to get it done and … well … ten years had gone by and it just wasn't happening. (Anybody who is married to a plumber and has a leaky faucet knows exactly what I’m talking about here!)

I’d set aside a little money to start Phase I of the Plan … and then life happened. The economy took a nose dive, my husband’s business slowed to a crawl, and I simply couldn’t justify the expense of a personal garden against more pressing matters like health insurance and jobs for our employees. So I rolled up the Plan, stuck it in a corner in my laundry room, and went out and bought a hanging fuschia basket for my front porch. Maybe someday …

One day, my handyman, Phil, asked if I was ever going to do anything with my yard. I told him about my little dream for a sanctuary garden and why I’d put it on hold. “Hmmmm,” Phil said. “Mind if I think about this for a few days?” Really? Did I mind? Are you kidding?
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I am absolutely certain there will be a special place in heaven for Phil, because over time he has created for me a little heaven here on earth. Little by little, he has built rock walls, dug out a pond, moved statuary, and transplanted plants I've salvaged from the clearance racks at local nurseries. It bears no resemblance to the initial Plan, and it isn't going to win any awards, but it is my own little sanctuary and I love it. I love sitting on my little bench that I found at a local antique shop, watching the birds splash in my late mother-in-law's bird bath, and listening to the water in my fountain (in the pond liner that I found on Craigslist). I love my hostas, and columbine, and astilbe. I love the way the Creeping Charlie does, in fact, creep over the rockwork.

When I was a young teen, I recall watching "The Hunchback of Notre Dame" on television with my family. One particular scene stands out in my memory … that of Quasimoto rescuing Esmeralda, taking her into the cathedral, and yelling to the crowd outside, "Sanctuary! I give her sanctuary!" I remember asking my dad, "What does he mean?" My idea of a "sanctuary" was a big room at church with pews and a pulpit and a choir loft up in front. Dad explained that behind the locked doors of the cathedral, Quasimoto was offering the young woman a safe haven and that the church would protect her from whatever danger she was facing. The idea took root in my young mind and began a process I've practiced throughout my life of creating a sanctuary everywhere I have lived. My home has always been my sanctuary, my haven, a place where I can rest and be restored at the end of the day, a place where I feel sheltered from the elements, the demands, and the uncertainties of an ever changing world. Because while I love my work and the crazy always-on-the-go life I lead, there are days when I crave the comfort of my home and the solace of my garden.

Christopher Forrest McDowell wrote, “Sanctuary, on a personal level, is where we perform the job of taking care of the soul.” My little garden sanctuary is the place I love to go at the end of the day to breathe deep. It’s the place I go in the early hours of the morning to spend a few moments in gratitude before I launch into my day. And, much like the sanctuary of my little Catholic parish, it’s the place I go to listen to the still, small voice that speaks to my soul and gives me rest.

Just Fishin’

On my way to the shop this morning, I turned on the radio just as a Trace  Adkins song called “Just Fishin'” was starting to play.  In a nutshell, the lyrics were of a dad recounting the memories of special moments with his daughter while on fishing trips throughout her childhood.  I’m sure I’ve heard this song before, but this morning I was apparently undistracted enough that I actually paid attention to the words …. and remembered.

I remembered sitting alongside the bank of the Willamette River in what now is Alton Baker Park, fishing with my dad and talking his ear off.   I remembered tagging along on another trip, with my newest Nancy Drew book in tow.  He fished, I read.  There was little conversation, just compionable silence.  I  remembered catching catfish in the ponds near Fern Ridge, then stopping off at the little Fern Ridge Market for a sack of black jelly beans to share on the drive home.  I remembered a day alongside a river, when the fish weren’t biting, and my dad whittled me a whistle and a little wooden knife.  I still have the knife, tucked away in my hope chest.

My dad loved to fish, and he fished a lot.  Sometimes he even caught something, but mostly he loved the peace and quiet and the time alone with nature to sit and reflect.  I didn’t always tag along, but I was always welcome.  And here’s what I remember most … my dad shared his time with me.  Generously.  There was always room in the truck for me if I wanted to join him.    And when he was with me, he was present.  He paid attention to me when I talked.  And talked.  He logged in a lot of hours with me, listening to me talk about school, friends, general stuff and big ideas.  Sometimes he had a thought or two to share himself, but as I recall most of the chatter on those little excursions came from me.

I know that my dad treasured those times with me.  I know it because he often told me so.   Those trips along the bank of the river stand out as some of my best childhood memories.   Better than the trip to Sea World.  Better than getting my first horse.  Better than my first kiss with Matt Smith.  Just fishin’ with the coolest guy on the planet, my dad.

Confessions of a Workaholic

I have what I like to call “a strong work ethic”.  Okay, that may be a bit of an understatement.  I am a Workaholic. 

Hmmmmm ….. deep breath for a moment of truth …. it may be time to change. 

Last month, I said goodbye to a very treasured friend.  And as is often the case when a Signicant Life Event comes and goes, I find myself pondering a few rather important issues in the wake of her passing.  I’m not a woman who takes life lightly.  My friendships are precious to me and my passions run deep, as do my ponderings.  I have survived my own battles, crawled my way out of the valley and back to the land of the living, and I live each day immensely and intensely grateful for the gift of my life and my mobility.    But in the words of Michelangelo, “I am still learning …”

I am learning that I have been asking Myself to work at a level that I’d never expect from anyone else.  I am learning that I do, in fact, have limitations that I can’t overcome through shear will or enormous creativity.  I am learning that More is never Enough.  I am learning that yes, it is possible, to DO TOO MUCH.  I am learning that maybe, instead of being a Workaholic, I am a Do-Aholic.   I am learning that I can’t do it all all at once.   Hmmmmmm ….. it may be time to change.

A paradigm shift of this magnitude is going to take some concerted doing on my part (yikes, there’s the “do” word again!).  But here’s the great beauty of life that I’m so thankful for – Every Day is a Do-Over.  I can start fresh every morning and try again.  Or in this case, try less. 

So today, I begin  Project Less.  I’m taking baby steps here ’cause these are uncharted waters for me; but since my internal compass is clearly in need of adjustment,  I’m hoping my friends and family will LOVINGLY help me stay on course.  Because I’m also learning something else … that sometimes in life (as with lipstick and blue eye shadow), less is more. 

Thank you, Glenna, for reminding me of what is important in life and what isn’t.  I miss you.