Archive for the ‘Family’ Category

Last fall I was going through a lot of soul searching about job stuff that I couldn’t really post publicly.  It was all consuming; which explains why my blog has been dry for so long.  I tried to write some vague posts, but they were bland.  

My friends and family listened to my decision making process, but it wasn’t the type of thing that I could alert my boss or coworkers to at the time.  I’m in a different (and better) spot now, and I’m more free to share some of the struggle from last fall.  The struggle of “what the heck to do with your life” is universal.  I’ll share now what I can, in hopes that it makes someone else feel not as alone.  

This post was written back in November.  

November 11, 2011

The Cylons spent most of the Battlestar series trying to figure out what it means to be human, just like us humans. (This is not a photo of me, just in case you were wondering).

Just like the Cylons in the Battlestar Galactica series, we all wrestle with the question:

What does it mean to be human?


I’m almost 20 years out of high school, and I think I’m finally coming to terms with what it means for me to be human.

It’s not my job, or my hobbies, or my family, or my wealth.

It’s about a balanced life.

About a week ago, I went to the doctor.  She said that I was about 30 pounds overweight and that I should exercise more.  I almost cried in the office.  I feel stretched so thin (that’s a stupid phrase because when I’m stretched and stressed, I get fat) already, how on earth would I find time to go for a walk?

I spend almost 2 hours a day commuting back and forth to work, and another 2-4 hours per week, taking my daughter back and forth to her dad’s house.  There is laundry and cooking and gardening and pets and helping with homework and trying to get a small business up and going.

Meanwhile, my house is falling in around me.  I don’t have time to clean, take my car in to get fixed, or even time to stop to get a haircut.

Sounds like lots of people you know.  I’m sure.  I’m not alone.

I could cut out some things I suppose.  I could buy some frozen meals or give up gardening.

But those are the things that make me human.  I can’t cut those things out of my life because they strip away who I am.

I want balance.

Listen friends!  I’m stamping my feet now and throwing a mid-life tantrum.  I want…I want…I want my life to be in balance!

I want time to cook and clean; time to garden and freeze the food I harvest.

I want to help with homework and comb my daughter’s hair before school; to take the dog for a walk and sip hot chocolate in the evening with my honey.

I want to find a way to make some money to pay bills, and be home when the kids get off the bus.

My husband says I’m greedy.

But I’m greedy for time with the ones I love.

I’m greedy for wanting time to connect.

I’m greedy for wanting to spend time doing the things that make me human.

The last two weeks, I’ve started living more like a human.  I’ve been making time for some of the most important things.  But, it’s reshaping the way my life is going to look.  This may mean some financial changes, which can be sort of scary.

But I like finding out that this Cylon might just be human afterall.

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All You Need Is Love

I’ve been inspired to write by Single Dad Laughing and his post, “I’m Christian, Unless You’re Gay.”  Go read the post and the follow up responses, and then come on back.

The premise is that it doesn’t matter if you people are different or we disagree with them, that we should just plain love them.  We should stop throwing negativity at them and start loving them.  That’s what Jesus would do.

And I’m guilty.

Not of being unChristian to homosexuals, or the poor, or the disinfranchised.

I’m guilty of hating the haters.

My hackles go up when I hear a snotty tone of voice.

My patience wears thin when I hear biggotted jokes.

I feel like punching a wall when I hear small minded comments.

But, really, all of these people are hurting too.  Or maybe they just don’t understand the power of their words.  Shouldn’t I show them a little bit of kindness?  Be a friend?  Or at least be a good example?

When I was in Junior High, I went to school in a very rich district.  The right clothes and hair were very important, and I was teased a lot.  My only “friends” were the other kids that were also the outcasts.  We had little in common, except that we were all weirdos.

My parents worried about me, and I saw a counselor for a while.  I must have complained that the kids were snobby, because my counselor said to me,  “Maybe they think you are being a snob.”

Those words completely changed my life.

I’ve always been very shy, and I continue to be an introverted person.  But it certainly changed my perspective on other people.  It’s my own fault if I don’t reach out to others.  It’s not their responsibility to reach out to me, it’s mine to reach out to them.  Not only that, it’s my responsibility to be receptive to the love of others.

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“Beanie, do you think you are the geekiest girl in your class?”

“Most likely,” she says with pride.

Me and The Bean

My daughter and I are alike in many ways.

We’re both curious about the world, good students, and a little self-conscious and awkward at times.  We both have big hearts, but can be taken as stand-offish.

I’ve always embraced my nerdish charm, but she wears hers even more proudly.

It stinks for her that her mom and dad aren’t married anymore.  But in another way, she’s very lucky.

She ended up with a great step-mom that helps keep her in line, and keeps the communication between homes seamless.

And, she ended up with a step-dad that has helped her inner geek blossom.

I forget how it all started.

Somehow my little girl got hooked on fantasy books.  She read books about princesses, then moved on to The Sisters Grimm, The Warriors, and has plowed her way through six Harry Potter books in the last three weeks.  She checks out books about Greek and Norse mythology, has read the Neil Gaiman books that are kid appropriate, and she loves the Bathroom Reader books for all the little bits of data.

Someday she will be the queen of trivia.

When I have to punish her, I do it by taking away reading privileges.

She’s joined chess club, loves her glasses, and can sit for hours imagining stories or watching the chickens.

Bean likes to play the zillions of board games we have stocked on our shelves, but she really looks forward to playing role playing games with the crew.

I think she’s growing into the big kid that she wants to be.

Bean has tons of fun with her dad.  They play video games, go swimming, and watch NASCAR together.

Bean and I have fun by sitting around talking, watching movies, doing crafts, reading together, or going for walks.

Bean has fun with her stepmom cooking together.

But Jeremy has brought out this whole other geeky dimension to her personality that could only be possible as an apprenticeship.

The two of them talk about parallels of mythology and the fantasy books they’ve read.  Jeremy helps her create characters for role playing games; so she can fly spaceships as a one-eyed hawk, or fight giants as a fairy.  He waits patiently as the kids get way off-track in their story telling.

Jeremy helps her dig deep into the meanings of her drawings, and never tells her that her ideas are preposterous.  He plays off of her ideas, and helps her explain them more clearly.

I see my little girl embracing herself, and that’s pretty cool.

I think having so many adults with so many interests and personalities has given her more opportunity to discover herself;

and like the person smiling back at her in the mirror.

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My mom is planning a memory garden for her new house.

Which got me thinking about the flowers in my garden that remind me of special people.

Montana Blues from Jeanette

Two people feed my flower obsession, my mom and Jeanette. Jeanette is my former neighbor.  I haven’t seen her for several years, but I still consider her to be my flower mentor.

There are oodles of flowers that remind me of Jeanette: cleome, sweet peas, Christmas cacti, giant pink rose bushes, coreopsis, flowering quince…

One time, she came home from church with Easter lillies that she pulled from the trash. She gave me some and told me to plant them. For many years the lilies returned. I moved them from house to house, but they disappeared along the way.

My whole garden style reminds me of Jeanette. Her philosophy is to let flowers reseed themselves and let them come up where ever they may to create a grand surprise for us. I’ve expanded on her love of mixing and matching, by tucking away annuals into nooks and crannies.

I still have a flower that she gave me.   As freely as I give away starts, I don’t share my Montana Blues, a fancy bachelor’s button. I’ll be glad to share some once I’m sure they’ve spread enough and are here to stay.

Lantana reminds me of my artist friend, Jan

This year I bought a yellow and pink lantana and put it in a pot with some petunias.

I can’t see lantana anywhere without thinking about Jan.

My friend Jan and I were both part-time traveling teachers at the same schools. She taught art, and I taught science.  At one of the schools we shared a room and exchanged moral support.  In the window, Jan kept giant lantana plants with sandpapery leaves. Guara always reminds me of her too, and how she calls the baby plants, “pups”.

Hollyhocks are part of the childhood memories of my Grandma Frech.

She didn’t bake me cookies or read stories aloud when I was a little lassie, but I recall two fun moments. The first is completely unrelated to flowers.  She babysat us and we played Land of the Lost underneath the dining room table that now resides in my dining room.

This hollyhock is a little bit fancier than the ones Grandma grew

The second is a sweet and simple memory.  Outside of the farmhouse was a patch of dark pink Hollyhocks. When they were in bloom, she would make dolls for me using a bud as the head and an open blossom as the skirt. I wish I knew how to make them like she did.

Bleeding hearts and daylillies remind me of my Aunt Nina who also has a flower obsession. Nina has jam-packed flower beds, which always have something in bloom.  She loves Hostas too, which rubbed off on my mom.

Lots of flowers make me think of Mom.

She has a special fondness for violets because they remind her of her grandmother. Once we visited the wooded lot where her grandmother’s house used to be. We took a few starts home.

My daughter is starting to enjoy flowers.  She claims to not like gardening much, but she spends hours playing in the dirt.  That is the makings of a gardener if you ask me.

She is starting to ask to plant particular flowers, and is claiming favorites.  This summer she declared poppies as her favorite.  How can I argue with that?  We planted several from seed.  When I’m missing her I visit her crab apple tree and the poppies underneath. The memories and joy that flowers carry with them is one of the reasons I love to garden.

When I spend time meditating by pulling weeds and planting seeds, I’m spending time with the people I love.

When I stroll through the aisles at a greenhouse, I’m looking for connections. What flowers are near and dear to your heart?  I bet there’s a link between our favorite flowers and someone we love and admire.

Violets, my mom's favorite

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Tsk. Tsk. Tsk.

Her house is a pigsty.

Where would you like to sit? Let me clear a spot for you.

There is cat hair on the sofa the dog hair in the carpet. Half of a pair of dirty socks is rotting on the coffee table and its mate is on the stairs.

Fruit flies party around a bruised tomato on the counter. A mysterious red goo clings to the floor by the waste basket.

There is a funny ring around the sink in the kitchen, and the shelf in the fridge is sticky.

There is so much stuff on sitting surfaces that you’ll have to pile it up to find a place to plop.

There are kids drawings on the fridge and bulletin board; and games piled up on the table. Stuffed animals are stuck in between the couch cushions. Books pages are marked with old envelopes.

This is my house.

I know. I’m a slob. But there are only so many hours in a day, and I’ve finally stopped beating myself up about my messy house.

Quality time with my daughter and step-kids is more important than shiny floors. After a long day at work, if I come home and clean for an hour, there won’t be enough time to just hang out with the kids: helping with homework, watching Cosby show reruns, reading together and playing games.

Cleaning up before someone comes over to my house is lying.

I spend 95%* of my time in a messy house. I know I should try to put my best foot forward. But when I spend hours scouring the house, I get stressed, and still feel the need to make excuses for the mess that’s left.

My messy house is embarrassing.

But I’ve decided that other than running the vacuum and making sure there’s a place to sit at the table and the couch, I’m not going to stress myself out anymore before people come over.

Since I’ve stopped making a major production of cleaning before company, I’ve actually gotten compliments on my house.

Not, “Oh your house is so lovely,” but “your house is so homey.”

My friends feel pretty comfortable in the clutter, I think.

It takes the pressure off them to feel like they need to clean before I come over.

After all, most of us have messy houses 95% of the time. We either have kids, or dogs, or busy jobs, or occupying hobbies. All are more important than a clean house.

Now, I am in no way slamming anyone with a clean house. Some people are great at cleaning. They are efficient cleaners. They feel better when their living space is organized. Some people find cleaning, meditative.

If you love to clean, go for it.

I’m too A.D.D. to keep a clean house. I spend hours trying to organize a countertop. I am completely inefficient. As much as I love an organized space, it takes so much energy that I spend way more stress trying to maintain the organization, than the stress the clutter causes.

I’ve decided that the best friends are the ones you don’t have to clean up for; the ones that you’re not ashamed to bring into your messy house for coffee.

Typical state of the dining room table

Seriously, do we really want our friends to waste time fretting over their messy house for us?


I want to be the friend that you’ll invite into your house when the counter is full, and you have to push your junk onto a pile on the floor for me to sit down.

I don’t care about your clutter.

I care about you.

*all percentages are completely made up, but I think they’re pretty accurate anyway.

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Love Tanks Can Be for Energy Too

Photo of my daughter and my dog, taken by my step-daughter

Many of you are probably familiar with the book, The Five Love Languages.  In the book, Chapman describes love tanks.  As long as there are continuous deposits, your love tank will never be empty, and you will in turn have plenty of love to give.  Relationships begin to break down if one of the people involved has an empty tank.

I think it’s similar with emotions and energy as well.  As long as there are continuous deposits of energizing activities, positive communication, and affirmation of who you are, there will be plenty of positivity for you to give back to the world.

The last year, not only drained my love tank, but also my overall emotional tank.  I have a loving husband and daughter.  I know they love me.  But there were too many withdraws from other areas my life.

Someone Ought to Write a Vampire Book That Takes Place at a High School

Teaching uses a lot of energy without a lot of return (unless maybe you are paid in hugs by kindergarteners-my high schoolers don’t hug me-thank goodness!).  There are some nice kids, some that want to blend into the scenery, and those that will suck from you any remaining energy you have.

There aren’t a lot of “atta girls” in teaching.  Parents of high schoolers don’t call you up to say, “Great job on the unit, little Billy couldn’t stop talking about it.”  I’ve only had two students write thank you notes.  The only time I hear from the administration is when I’m missing some paperwork or forgot to do something.

Heck, my students say, “I don’t have a pencil” instead of, “May I borrow a pencil, please?” In fact, I had one student that would say, “Screw it then, I just won’t do the work,” when I asked him to use please as part of his request.  It sounds little, but twenty situations just like this over the course of a day, is draining.

There are not a lot of kudos in step-parenting either.

Being a step-parent to tweens and a teen is very similar to teaching.  Just like my students, the may respect me, but they don’t love or appreciate me the way my own kid does.  I don’t get hugs and kisses, and “I love you” notes from them.  I give as much as a parent, but the return on investment is much smaller than regular ole parenting.

Just like in teaching, they will probably appreciate what I did for them when they are all grown up.

I get it though.  It’s part of the job that I signed up for when I married my husband.

My point is, I don’t hear, “That’s awesome” or “Good Job” very often at all.  Most of the feedback I get is, “This is stupid (dumb or boring)”, or “Why do we have to …?”

This summer was a shock to my system.

I got positive feedback.

The first was when I went to a coffee shop to install some of my photographs on consignment.  The woman in charge of the displays couldn’t stop gushing over them.  She pulled the customers into our conversation, so she could gush some more.  I wasn’t quite sure what to do with positive attention.  I was caught completely off-guard.

Then I started doing some freelance writing in one of my favorite topics, sustainable agriculture.  While I was doing my first interview, the interviewee, asked my opinion about the topic.  A leader in the industry wanted to know what I thought about an issue?  Stunning.

The editor that hired me for the writing job said something like “Nice job,” or “Good article” or something like that.  Amazing.

At the end of an interview with one of my agricultural heros, he said to me, “Thank you for the work you do.”  Ahhhh.  So nice.

Each little thank you.  Each atta girl, was simple.

I started to wonder.  Do some people get thanked at work?  Do some people hear, “you’re doing a good job” or “what do you think about this idea?” on a regular basis?

And then I remembered.

Yes.  Yes they do, I’ve had those jobs before.

That’s what was missing for me in the last year.  Each simple act of kindness and gratitude gives me a little bit more energy to face my day and push ahead.

This summer I’ve had the energy to laugh.  I’ve had energy to be courageous.  And I’ve had the emotional space to think creative thoughts.

Remember to say “thank you” or “I appreciate what you do” to someone today.

Let’s keep these tanks filled up.

Note: As I was finding links to The Five Love Languages, Chapman has a new book called, The Five Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace.  I think it would probably be a pretty good read, especially if you are a manager of people.

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Good-bye Stupid Crooked House

Today was the last day that I stood in my childhood bedroom.  Well, not the bedroom of my entire childhood, just the icky years of 6-8th grade, and the pretty fun high school years.

When my parents bought the house, I didn’t really like it.  I was pulling for a house in the country with a couple of acres for a horse.  My mom liked an older house on a lake.

I called this house the crooked house.  For whatever reason, when I looked from the family room into the dining room, it seemed crooked to me.  I was the only one that saw it.   It didn’t look too crooked today.

It must have settled.

Help, I Need Somebody

My parents are in the process of moving from a town north of Detroit to Northern Indiana to be closer to their favorite child, Jenny.  (Sorry bro.)

Over the years, my parents have helped me out a ton.  I could always count on them to help me move, start a new flower bed, help re-drywall a ceiling, and loan me money for a car.

It’s my turn to help pay some of that back.

I have to admit, I’ve been a pretty bad daughter.  But, they haven’t needed a whole lot of help until now either.

They need help-and by help I mean in an “everyone needs to pitch in kind of way,” not a “they’re old and feeble” kind of way.

This summer, I went up a couple of times to help mom clean the basement, pack up a bit, and get starts of all of her favorite flowers.

World’s Bestest Daughter

Today, my daughter and I drove up with my mom and back down again with a truckload of miscellaneous stuff that didn’t fit into the rental last weekend.  We were in the car for ten hours.  I must have been Fred Flintstone, because my feet are sure tired.

Bean is nine, and kind of sort of an only child.  She was an only child until she was six, and got step-siblings when she was eight.  She is still an only child every other week, and man can this kid entertain herself. She spends hours reading, drawing, or just playing in the dirt building cities.

Not once did she complain on the trip. (I know how lucky I am.)  She knew she was there to keep me company and she kept herself entertained with books on tape, Muppetcast, and books to read.  She even wrote a story about a man-eating caterpillar.

While mom and I packed up the truck, she entertained herself under a tree playing with pine needles and pretending they were people.  I took a couple of minutes to make her a flower doll to spice things up a bit.

Scary Slugs with Gigantic Eyeballs

The best part of the day was when I asked her to bring around some small gardening stakes.  She came running back up front without the stakes.

“Mom, what kind of slug-like thing has eyes?” she asked in a shaky voice.

“Slugs have eyes sweetie.  They’re just on eyestalks,” I said.

“There is a slug back there that has eyes, and no eyestalks or antennae.  It kind of scared me.”

We went back to see what it was.

It was crawling across the grass.  At first I thought it was a baby mole or something, but the eyes were too weird for that.

Upon closer inspection, it was a caterpillar, and the eyes were just fake outs for scaring away little girls.

Bean named him Moley.

We put him in a box to bring him home to research.

It is a Papilio canadensis or Canadian Tiger Swallowtail.  Usually the caterpillars are green.  Once I found a black hornworm.  I wonder if they have anything to do with one another.

This is Moley.


And someday he will look like this:

Photo by manual crank, Flickr

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