Category Archives: Thoughts

Blogging (Or Not) Between A Rock and A Hard Place

This blog has been silent for so long I think all my readers may have left. If you are here checking in to see if there is anything happening, thank you. And yes, there is stuff happening. A lot. A lot of shifting in my life. So much shifting that that I don’t even know if my blog is relevant to my life anymore. I used to blog mainly about my life in a blended family. For at least the last year of my life, the funny, loving and happiest parts of my blended family life changed. I began to experience loss and disappointment. These feelings made it difficult for me to access those parts of my life where I experienced laughter and love. It’s been rough. Even though I knew deep down that these raw, painful parts of my life needed to be revealed, I felt like I couldn’t do it. I thought, who wants to read about that? Isn’t that too private?

I didn’t’ know the answers to those questions. I still don’t know the answers to these questions. All I know is that throughout this period I have been struggling. But, my struggle would probably have been lightened just a bit if I had a place to share it. Sure, I shared it with my husband, friends and therapist, but I felt like I could not share it here. Somehow, keeping all the hard stuff about my life to myself, while I wrote about my “well-blended life” seemed dishonest. I want my writing to be honest, so I’ve been stuck.

Today I am leaving town to attend a blogging conference, BlogHer 14. I attended for the first time a couple of years ago and left inspired, and motivated. When I bought my conference pass last fall, I was still writing regularly. As the conference approached I began to feel like I didn’t want to go. My husband encouraged me to go. (Maybe it’s because I am easier to live with when I am blogging.) I told him I was hesitating about going because how could I call myself a blogger when I wasn’t blogging? Our lives and the material it inspired didn’t really fit into the “niche” blog I created. As we talked about it, I knew I needed to go and when I came back I needed to write about more than just the nice blended family life. As our kids have grown, my blog and my identity on this blog need to grow too. So, we created this new business card to take with me to BlogHer. It has the new tag line for my blog. I think it fits.

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Then, as if the Universe was giving me an affirmation, I saw the title of one of the BlogHer sessions, “The Blogging Pivot: When It’s Time to Change.” You can be sure I will be attending that session. When I get back from BlogHer and back to blogging, I hope you’ll be here. Thanks for reading. Thanks for staying.

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December Flashback: Christmas Traditions and Pigging Out on New Year’s Eve

2014.

I don’t even know where to start. We are already over one week into the New Year and life is moving fast. The holidays came and went so quickly I didn’t have the time or will to blog.  I’ll do a quick recap here.

We spent the first part of December getting ready to get ready. Right after Thanksgiving Juan went into the attic and brought down our 12 crates of holiday decorations and the artificial tree we purchased last year.  I thought it would be a great idea to have an artificial tree so we could put it up early and enjoy it all month long.

The tree stood in the living room, and the boxes lined the hallway untouched for two full weeks. I kept wishing the tree would decorate itself and trying to find the motivation to hang a few decorations. My advent wreath was set out on the dining room table and the first two candles stayed unlit. Then Olivia came home from her first semester at college, Diego continued to ask about the decorations and I got tired of running into boxes in the hallway. Finally, mid-December we decorated and started our Christmas shopping. Bam! It was Christmas in my house!

The weekend before Christmas my family got together to make tamales. I grew up eating tamales at Christmas and for many years I would get together with my mom and grandma to make them.  Since my grandmother died two years ago we have not made tamales.  This year it was time to start our tradition again.  Olivia wanted to participate so we went to my mom’s house and learned the craft of tamale making while the men “helped” by drinking Coronas, watching football and taste testing. I guess some traditions die hard.

Spreading the masa.

My sister-in-law and I spread the masa.

Olivia earns her stripes with her first tamale making experience.

Olivia earns her stripes with her first tamale making experience.

Tamale Tasters? Traditions?

Tamale Tasters? Traditions?

Another one of our Christmas traditions involve debating how we will spend Christmas. Juan and I have celebrated a dozen Christmases together and I can safely say that we have probably spent three of them in our own house, waking up in our own bed.  That’s because every year when the kids were younger, we would have to share Christmas morning with the other parents and divide our family time between my extended family and Juan’s extended family.  That usually meant Christmas Eve dinner with my parents followed by a sleep-over at my sister-in-law’s house for Christmas morning and then driving back to our side of town for the custody exchange, mid-day. It was hectic but that became our routine. Now that the kids are older and there is more flexibility with the custody exchange we have been able to cut down on some of the Christmas day driving.

Every year I try to eliminate the Christmas Eve sleepover, and this year was no different. Juan and I wanted a nice, relaxing Christmas morning in our own house, but we were completely out-voted. The kids protested, arguing that part of the fun and “tradition” was staying up late and sleeping over to celebrate Christmas with their cousins. So, that’s what we did.  In our annual tradition, we went to an early Christmas Eve service and then returned home to hurriedly load our van with presents for both our families, and our kids, overnight clothes and sleeping bags and then drove to Orange County to celebrate Colombian style with my in-laws. The celebration involved a late night meal, dancing and a hilarious gift exchange where my mother-in-law was the big winner! The kids were right. It was really fun! I guess part of our tradition is that every year I have to complain about our “tradition.” At least this year I didn’t have to rush through Christmas Eve dinner with my parents since everyone in my family was willing to have that part of the celebration on Christmas day. Maybe that’s a new tradition.

Juan and I take a selfie in church while we wait for the Christmas Eve service to start.

Juan and I take a selfie in church while we wait for the Christmas Eve service to start.

Cousins at the annual Christmas sleepover.

Cousins at the annual Christmas sleepover.

Silliness and laughs for the White Elephant gift exchange.

Silliness and laughs for the White Elephant gift exchange.

My mother-in-law was the big winner with the knit cap and gloves. She added the pan-flute!

My mother-in-law was the big winner with the knit cap and gloves. She added the pan-flute!

Part of our Christmas eve is waiting until all the partying ends and the kids finally fall asleep so we can play Santa. Here, it's 3:30 a.m.

Part of our Christmas eve is waiting until all the partying ends and the kids finally fall asleep so we can play Santa. We’re still waiting and it’s 3:30 a.m!

Christmas day on the patio at my parent's house and relaxing family celebration.

Christmas day on the patio at my parent’s house and relaxing family celebration. Thank goodness.

New Year’s Eve was also the start of something different.  For a couple of years now I have spent New Year’s Day hosting an open house and serving black-eyed peas and posole. The black eyed peas are for good luck and the posole is because I like it.  This year we decided we wanted to host a party and switched it up for New Year’s Eve. We got together with another local family who are Colombian and combined forces. They brought over a 65 pound female pig to roast and 30 of their closest friends.

Part of our new tradition? A 65 pound pig to roast.

Part of our new tradition? A 65 pound pig to roast.

We supplied the house, the black beans, rice, platanos, along with a few other appetizers, a whole lot of left over alcohol from my 50th birthday party, and about 20 friends.  We danced, lit fireworks, and finally ate at 1:00 a.m! It was a good time for all!  So good that the party turned into a sleep-over and carried over the next day as we all sat around in my kitchen eating leftover tamales and the posole I made for New Year’s Day.

New Year's Rockin' Eve in my family room!

New Year’s Rockin’ Eve in my family room!

My mother-in-law and nephew getting ready to limbo. Who knew she was such a party animal?

My mother-in-law and nephew getting ready to limbo. Who knew she was such a party animal?

Several hours later and the pig is done. We ate at 1:30 a.m!

Several hours later and the pig is done. We ate at 1:30 a.m!

It may not be known for its curative effects for a hangover but it was still good!

Posole  may not be known for its curative effects for a hangover but it was still good!

I guess looking back at how busy we were for the the holidays, I can understand why I didn’t blog much. Remembering how wiped out I was after my New Year’s party, I can also forgive myself for waiting over a week into the New Year for my first blog post.  I have some intentions for this New Year which I hope to share with you in posts ahead.

In the meantime, I have some black-eyed peas I need to eat. Happy New Year!

A traditional New Year's food.

Our other traditional New Year’s food. 

Sunday Offerings: The Key to Re-Encountering My Faith

My Sundays typically involve church.  Growing up Roman Catholic, church was a big part of my life. I felt God in the liturgy of the mass, the rituals of incense, candles, and music. As an adult I have found that going to church regularly refreshes my soul and keeps me connected to God, my community and my family. For the past several months, I have not been feeling quite the same about church. I have been struggling with feeling my connection to the Divine.  I know a lot of my struggle with my faith is due to the challenges I have been dealing with in my family life. The liturgy of the mass offers little comfort. I don’t know if it’s a chicken or egg thing. Perhaps because I have been struggling in my family life, my church attendance has been spotty, or perhaps because my church attendance has spotty, I have been struggling in my family life.

My Buddhist friend, who knows my struggle, and feels my despair, invited me a lay Buddhist meeting.  She talks to me enthusiastically about how her life and her children’s lives have turned around since they started chanting. We went to lunch one day and I met with one of her Buddhist leaders.  It was an inspiring and insightful conversation. I have no doubt that the Buddhist faith is working in their lives. I accepted the invitation to the Buddhist meeting.  At first I was a bit self-conscious about chanting words I wasn’t even sure I was pronouncing correctly.  But, as the sound washed over me in community with the other women in the room I felt peace.  It was a very positive experience that was both familiar and strange.  It was strange in the sense, that the language was foreign and I struggled to find meaning in the words we chanted.  It was familiar in the sense that the ritual of the prayer beads, the gong and chanting seemed a lot like the rituals I had grown up with and which gave me comfort.

This morning Juan and Diego had to go to soccer practice.  The other kids were sleeping in. I didn’t want to go to church by myself, so I decided I would take Molly on a walk to the big outdoor church. Nature. It’s the other place I feel God. I don’t get outdoors nearly enough, but today the air was crisp, the sun was bright and I needed to move my body.  I announced to my kids that we weren’t going to church this morning.  I think they were a bit relieved they would have a leisurely Sunday morning.

I  drove to nearby Eaton Canyon, took my car key off the ring and stuck it in my iPhone case.  As Molly and I hiked the canyon I listened to a talk given by Nadia Bolz-Weber, a Lutheran preacher who had visited my church a couple of weeks ago.  At one point during the talk she explained how she had grown up in the fundamentalist Church of Christ, and then decided to become a Lutheran when she experienced and fell in love with the liturgy.  She said liturgy feels like “choreographed sacredness” and that it was like a “stream that flowed long before us and will continue long after us so that we… can be immersed in the language of truth and promise and Grace.” Her words rang so true for me.

I listened and worshipped the nature around me, trying to feel the presence of God.  It was challenging because Molly kept pulling on her leash and the canyon was filled with hikers, joggers, and a lot of dogs.  By the time we had hiked over a mile, we were  she was tired and we turned around to make our way back to the car.  I took my phone out from its case and took this picture of me communing with nature.  I definitely look more sweaty than full of Grace.

Hiking the trail in the great outdoor church.

Hiking the trail in the great outdoor church.

About halfway back to the car it occurred to me that the key I had placed in my iPhone case was no longer there. You know the key?  The one with the computer chip in it that costs hundreds of dollars to replace? I panicked. Whatever sense of peace and Grace I felt during my hike evaporated.  Molly and I sprinted back to the spot where I took the picture.  Along the way, I kept dodging hikers, dogs and the occasional horse and dog poop, all the while looking, hoping, praying to find the key.

I have lost a lot of things before. I have found them too, in odd, unexpected places. My mom is the same way. She has taught me to pray to St. Anthony whenever I lose things.  Along the trail I prayed to St. Anthony again.  I laughed at myself at the absurdity of me losing the key and the even greater absurdity of finding it along the well-traveled trail covered with leaves, dirt and rocks.

I arrived at the spot where I had taken the picture. I looked among the shrubs, under leaves and turned over rocks. It wasn’t there. I made the walk back to the car my eyes downcast, searching for the key, missing the beauty of nature and ignoring the presence of God around me. I thought of the irony in losing the key in my quest to find God.  By the time I reached my car, I still hadn’t found the key and felt resigned that it was probably gone.  I called Juan and told him the bad news, and ask that he bring me the one spare key we had left.

Juan and Nico arrived, prepared to do one more sweep through the canyon. I refused to go, saying it was a lost cause.  Before we left, I decided I’d go into the ranger station to see if the key had been turned in. The ranger told me that no one had turned in any keys and asked me for my name and the key description.  Just then another ranger walked into the office. The second ranger asked, “You lost a key?” Then she pulled out my key from her shirt pocket. She said someone along the trail had just turned it in.

I took the key and in a moment of evangelizing told the ranger about St. Anthony. She said I should go buy a lottery ticket.  I replied that I was going to light a candle instead. Nico drove home with me and along the way we laughed and talked about the miracle.  In my best Southern evangelical preacher voice I shouted, “Allelulia!”  I asked him “Can I have an Amen?”  Getting into the spirit of it, Nico shouted “Amen!”  I enthused, “See? You just need to have faith.”  Nico asked,  ”Well, what’s the lesson here?”  I paused and thought about it.  Then, I replied, I guess the lesson is that I just need to have faith that what has been lost will be found.

Joy Cometh in the Writing

 

Notes On Wood 4  This is a long post. I hope you’ll stick with me, even if  my writing is kind of all over the place. It comes back full circle.

I struggle with finding Joy in my life. Lately, it has become an even bigger challenge. Ocassionally, I will encounter Joy in a fleeting moment, and then she’s gone, leaving me to feel like I will never find her again. 

Today I read one of my favorite bloggers, Glennon Melton from Momastery.  Much of what she writes is positive, and uplifting, and difficult and challenging. It’s what she calls, Brutiful. (Brutal and beautiful.) Today she wrote how we often forget what brings us Joy.  She said that we need to be still to listen and remember what brings us Joy.  One way to do that is to think back to when we were 12 and remember what made us joyful. 

I totally get this idea. I  have been blogging consisitently for 22 days. I am remembering  what brings me Joy.  I keep forgetting.  Well, maybe I don’t forget, as much as I don’t make important the practice of encountering Joy.

What follows is a blog post I wrote over a year ago. At the time I wrote it Joy was not even a visitor to my life. I remember feeling so uplifted that day, after writing this post . Then, I got sidetracked with my life, and I didn’t finish writing it.  I forgot about the Joy I found.  Today, after reading Glennon’s post, it reminded me that I had the same thought a year ago.  I remembered what brought me Joy when I was 12. It still brings me Joy at 50. . . .

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I started writing when I was just a girl. I used to write and (badly) illustrate children’s stories.  I won a poetry writing contest in 5th grade. I was inspired to write more, and throughout my grade school days I continued writing. I wrote poetry, short stories and essays, plays. I wrote whenever I felt inspired and I didn’t think too much about grammar, punctuation, syntax or even spelling. By the time I graduated 8th grade I established that I was a writer, and I won another writing award.  Then I entered high school—a bigger pond with a lot more fish.

There were a lot of kids who liked to write.  All of a sudden I realized there was a lot more to learn about the craft of writing and my confidence waned. Being the competitive self that I am I started to compare my writing to others’ around me. When my poetry didn’t make it into the high school’s poetry journal and I started getting B’s in English, I began to doubt myself.

Once, in a high school literature course, I wrote an inspired essay about Shakespeare’s Midsummer Nights Dream. The words just flowed out of me. When I was done writing, I knew it was a well-written essay. I eagerly awaited the teacher’s comments.  The teacher agreed it was a  well-written essay.  In fact, it was so well-written that he questioned me about its authenticity. Did I even write it?  Perhaps I was “inspired” from another source?  Ouch.

 I put away my notebooks and decided to turn my attention to other interests.  No more writing for me, but then, it would call to me. During those moments in my life of sadness, confusion or Joy, I would be inspired to write it all down. In an assortment of notebooks I jotted poetry, prose, whatever came to me. One day, and I don’t know when or why, I stashed it all away so that I couldn’t even remember where to find it. 

 About three years ago, I became a blogger, and in that way I became a writer. I write. It’s not always good, it’s not always inspired, but I do it because I enJOY it.  Sometimes I remember the sting of my high school teacher’s comment. I wonder, is my writing any good? Is anyone out there reading?  I write mainly for myself, but it’s so affirming when I get a comment or a word of encouragement.  Recently, I received this comment from a reader named Jill.

“ Hi, I happened upon your page because i was google-ing for an image of things tapped to the inside of kitchen cabinets for my https://www.facebook.com/sTuCkInThEtees?ref=stream
facebook page (memories of the 70s 80s 90s)
As I was raised by my grandparents after both my parents passed away when i was 7 yrs old, and my grandmother had Dear Abby clippings, tv guide covers, recipes etc. tapped inside our cabinets…..
I could NOT leave your LWB page without saying that I was moved to tears! I don’t know you, your grandmother, your family or friends….However i feel blessed and honored that by this story! Your story and memories have given me some “healing” from my youth….”

I wrote the post she’s referring to in an inspired moment. I started writing it in the car, as we left my grandmother’s house.  Somehow, in the random world of  Google Searches this reader found me, and found my grandmother’s story.  Jill’s words let me know that, somehow, my words have given her some healing for her own loss.  Her comment comforted me and motivated me.

It’s comforting to know that my own Grandmother’s life is touching others even after her death, and its due in part to my writing about her.  So I will continue to blog. I will continue to write.

And with that, I will continue to find Joy.

What brings you Joy? What brought you Joy when you were 12?

Firsts

It’s Monday, the 18th day of NaNloPoMo, and I am feeling a bit uninspired.  I looked at today’s writing prompt to get me going.  The prompt is to blog about a post you didn’t publish. I have a couple of those, but not many. Actually, I have many more unwritten posts that I probably won’t be able to publish, for the same reasons I haven’t written them.  The subject is too raw, and the stories are personal not just to me, but to others in my family.

I looked through my blog posts marked “private” and I found this one. When I wrote it my heart ached for my step-daughter.  I felt so helpless, like most parents feel when they see their child sick or sad. At the time, I wrote the post for myself and yet I knew that I would not be able to hit “publish” because like my other unwritten, unpublished blog posts, the subject matter was still too fresh.

Now, after reading this post, I feel enough time has passed that I can finally hit “publish.”

 

As parents, we’ve experienced many “firsts.” We had a first in our house last night. Our first daughter, with her first love, experienced her first broken heart. As parents, it was one of those times watching your child hurt and realizing you can do little about it, except offer some comforting words and the comforting food of a cheeseburger, fries and chocolate shake.We’ve all been there.  But, somehow seeing your child go through it makes it so much more painful. As we talked about her heartbreak, I found myself amazed at her level of maturity, insight and sensitivity.  The tears rolled down her face and she sobbed, feeling bad for being the one to break the news and knowing that in doing so, she may have broken a heart and ended a friendship.I have been on both ends of the spectrum, and in my opinion it is worse to be the one hearing the message, than the one delivering the message.  Maybe that’s because when I was the messenger I wasn’t as attached to the person, or maybe I just wasn’t as sensitive as our 14 year old daughter. I was also amazed, stunned actually, that we were talking about it. She doesn’t share her feelings easily, so perhaps it’s a testament to the amount of pain she felt that she was able to share it with her dad and I. Or maybe she just has a more open relationship about these things than I ever did with my parents. It could also be when I was a teen, I under-estimated my parents and didn’t think they would understand.

As much as it hurt to see her suffer, I also felt gratitude. I felt grateful that we have such an insightful, loving daughter.  Grateful that I felt close to her in sharing such heartache. Grateful that she confided in me, her mom and her dad. Most of all I felt grateful in knowing that this too shall pass and as beautiful and wonderful as she is, she will experience love again. This is one thing I know to be true. I am grateful to her for reminding me of that too.

 

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