A Little Birdy Told Me

A Bit of Daily Joy

Love this video of a little bird flirting with a country boy.  If you don’t like bluegrass, fast forward to minute 1.25.  Me, I believe I’ll listen to the  whole thing.  🙂

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Love at Second Glance

New jobs. Have mercy, they are stressful. Just like on my first day of school every year, I dressed up nicely and plastered on a confident smile held in place by cakes of makeup. But, the truth was… I was scared shitless. I had no fall back plan, no husband to pay the bills if I screwed everything up, and I had no idea what I was doing. To make my stomach churn just a little harder, I had just turned down 10,000 dollars more a year from my previous employer to follow a silly dream, and I sat in orientation thinking, “What the hell have I gotten myself into.”

Across the table sat a beautiful young woman, who I found out was assigned to be the epidemiologist on the same project as I. She was elegant with high cheekbones and great style. Within a few days, I would find out that she was brilliant too. She used words that I didn’t even understand, and asked questions that mattered, while I was still asking “where’s the light switch?” In short, I loathed her. And so the dance began.

Jealousy is so ugly. Deemed ‘the brilliant questions girl’, I whined and complained about her to my mother, my boyfriend, my shrink… I even whined about her to my dog. I was certain she was going to get me fired. I don’t remember the exact moment the tides began to turn, but we learned how to work together. And then, found ourselves talking together. And then, found ourselves laughing together. And then, found ourselves as friends.

We have now been colleagues for about half a year, and likely the best of friends for a lifetime. When most of my friends see me cry, they try to talk about other things or make jokes to try to make me laugh. Jenn has sat down in the mud beside me, wrapped her arm around me, and cried with me. What a beautiful friend. I have learned that beautiful people don’t happen by accident. Beautiful people have heart wrenching stories that have molded them to be both gentle and strong. Jenn and I have started to begin to share our stories together. And I am so looking forward to sharing more of our stories as well as laughs, successes, joys and progress.

This week she is moving across the country. I am going to miss her dearly. As we hugged goodbye, we both had tears in our eyes held back only by bravery and love for the other. I croaked out all I could think to tell her, “Love you.” It felt like the words just didn’t cover my appreciation for this woman, but I knew if I added “And I’ll miss you” my tears would break their dams. How do you begin to thank someone for being your strength as you lose the one person in your life that matters most? How do you begin to show someone the difference that makes? And the undeservingness of it all. I was jealous of her, a feeling that masked the truth- that I was intimidated by her at first. I’ve only known her a few months. Yet, she stepped up for me anyhow because she is a beautiful woman, one I hope to become more like. So, I guess sometimes, love unfolds, even if it is at second glance.

A Powerful Load of Laundry

I am never on top of my chores, ever.  In the last year, I have hired a cleaning service because I am just too slack.  What would my ‘bootstrapping’ grandparents think if they knew that I, a 27 year old single women, had hired a cleaning service?  Sheesh.

I was not always a slacker.  It’s just been hard to stay on top of things recently.  It’s even harder to keep up when weekends like this happen…

Last night my dad was terribly sick.  His chemo just kicks his butt sometimes, and low and behold, the washing machine decided to gurgle its lasts bubbles.  Are you kidding me?  So, this morning, I sat out to find a repair man.  Each repair man had the same phone-based diagnostic– the washing machine is old.  Given the thoroughness of the washer’s exam, I’m sure this diagnostic was based largely on the fact that today is Saturday.  Of course, they could fix it for a price, but the parts would take awhile to get here.  My dad is sick now.

Plan B became searching for a new washing machine.  I grabbed my car keys and told my mom that I would be back soon.  As I locked up the house, I saw a mini van slam on the breaks, back up about a foot and pull in our driveway.  Out of the mommy mobile popped Beth, a dear friend and long time neighbor of my parents.  She decided to say a prayer for my family as she drove by our house on her way home.  She said that if someone would walk out of the house, she would stop and offer to do our laundry.  Out I walked.  The only person to leave the house all morning.  What Beth didn’t know was that our washer was on the blink, and we were in a heap of trouble.

What makes this story even more beautiful is how the circle really is unbroken.  About a year ago, Beth’s husband was in the ICU a few miles from my own home (not my parent’s home.)  She was exhausted, and I offered for her to come stay with me a few nights.  In some weird way this was really thrilling for me.  Here was a dear friend, and I was finally far enough along in life to offer her a bed, a shower, a hug and some hospitality, instead of some crusty air mattress on the floor.  Believe me, when you’re in your mid twenties, in your first home, with your first mortgage, and someone dear to you needs some comfort that you are now able to provide…  Well, that’s a warming feeling.  That evening she said she was going to have to drive back to her home the next day, 3-4 hours away, because she had run out of clean clothes.  I insisted that I wash her clothes for her, and she was able to stay until her husband was discharged from the hospital.

So here Beth stood today in our laundry room telling me how hard it was to have let me wash her clothes for her that night.  She said that it felt like it was imposing on me; yet I was genuinely happy to be able to wash them.  She stopped today because she thought it might take a little work off my mom if she could just run a few loads of laundry for her now to return the favor, and this too made her genuinely happy.  This small act of kindness was given at moments in each of our lives when we were hanging on by a thread.  And it is moments like this in which I believe that maybe the world and God has not completely turn their backs on us.  Now, that is a powerful load of laundry.

Wisdom, Luck and the Art of Passing It On

Do you ever wonder how much of your parents positive lessons were purposely taught and how much was just good luck?  When I was a little girl, my dad would always play me to sleep every night.  My bedtime stories were always accompanied with a guitar.  My dad would play his melodies using a Gibson guitar with hummingbirds inlaid on the pick guard.  My brother, on the other hand, was played to sleep using a far more masculine guitar, a Martin D-16.

There were three songs always in my father’s good night routine for me: 1) My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean, 2) Catfish John and 3) Wouldn’t Change You if I Could.  Sure, other songs were often added to the mix, but I could count on these three being there.  Each held a different meaning and purpose.

My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean was in the mix to teach me who I am.  Not just that my name was Bonnie, but that no matter where I was, someone loved me, missed me and thought of me constantly.  A child needs to know these things.  And a daughter needs to know them infinitely more from her father.

I bet many of you aren’t familiar with the lyrics of Catfish John.  They go something like this: “Momma said don’t go near that river.  Don’t you be hanging ’round ol’ Catfish John.  But come the morning, I’d always be there.  Walking in the footsteps of the sweet delta dawn.  Born a slave, in town of Vicksburg.  Traded for a Chestnut mare.  Looking back, I still remember, and I’m glad to call him my friend.”  There were many lessons in this song.  The biggest was to push aside racism, judgement and fear of differences, and be friends with another person for their value as a loved one.  Some of the best people came from trying circumstances, and others with posher lifestyles often weren’t worth their weight in salt.  It also reminds me of who I am and where I come from.  To this day, a sunrise in Appalachia does my soul good and wells up strength inside me.

He also played, “Wouldn’t Change You if I Could.”  Now, I’m not sure I can even type these lyrics without crying, but I’ll try.  “I wouldn’t change you if I could.  I love you as you are.  You’re all that I would wish for, if I wished upon a star.  An angel sent from heaven.  You’re everything that’s good.  You’re perfect just the way you are.  I wouldn’t change you if I could.”  One time I was driving to the beach with my boyfriend, and this song came on the radio.  Without warning, I burst into tears.  I’m sure my boyfriend had no idea what was happening.  When I hear this song, it’s like having my dad sit down next to me, putting his arm around me, and allowing my head to nestle into his shoulder.  I am no angel, nor perfect, but every little girl should have a daddy who thinks they are.

Now I’m a social worker.  I know not everyone’s childhood is idyllic.  Even if your’s was not, I hope you can provide your child something that they can look back on, and believe in.  Perhaps you can pass it on in the form of wisdom, or perhaps you can just pass it along through luck.  But your family is the greatest gift you will ever receive.  Take a moment, pass it along.

People Punctuation ,-…;.?!

Have you ever noticed how you can look back over your life and see some people or events as commas, dashes, dot dot dots or semicolons and still others as periods, question marks or exclamation points?  When you read, it’s so easy to know which phrase you are perusing because at the end of each phrase you immediately get feedback in the form of comma, dash, dot dot dot, semicolon, period, question mark or exclamation.  Wouldn’t it be lovely if we immediately knew which version of punctuation we were dealing with when we interact with people or experience life events?  If we could only recognize them for their punctuation, it would be so much easier to have a perfectly balanced reaction to the situation.

I rarely care for grammar (unless my paycheck is banking on it).  I know the rules.  I just enjoy writing with a bit more grit than rule conformity would permit.  Commas separate pieces that fit together, and can’t stand independently.  Dashes are a melodramatic symbol indicating a continuation (far less formal that your colon… I don’t really care for colons in my life).  Dot dot dots are continuations too, and the tones carry forward almost infinitely.  A semicolon is the symbol of a continuation that strings together seamlessly a before thought and an after thought which clearly should be coupled. Periods indicate wholeness.  Question marks, however, linger with uncertainty despite its finality.  And, exclamation marks infuse energy, commonly joy.  See, I know.  I just stew in the icky thought of conformity at times.

Retrospection makes people punctuation so easy.  It’s feels unfair that sentences can just end and immediately know their value.  I’ve got a best friend and godson who are undoubtably exclamation points, a college roommate who was a wry little question mark, a high school boyfriend who was merely a comma…  But, all that took years of perspective to know which one they were to me.

And still yet, punctuation can apply to life events too.  I once heard the story of a great writer on his deathbed.  The night before he passed, he woke and told his wife of this persistent dream of a semicolon glowing in the forefront of his mind’s eye.  How lovely. This writer knew in the moments before his death that he was about to string together his before and after seamlessly.  What peace it must have brought him to know which punctuation he was dealing with in this moment.  Had he the wisdom of his punctuations his whole life, or did he just figure them out towards the end of his life?

I’ve been struggling a lot in the last few weeks with deciding who and what has been a comma, dash, dot dot dot, semicolon, period, question mark or exclamation in my life.  At times, I felt so certain that I had an exclamation point, only to be left with a question mark (and a frowny face too).  At other times, I was so caught up in myself that I felt certain I had arrived at a period, but it was merely a comma.  I know that none of the punctuations are bad, only indications of how things feel and connect.  Yet somehow, I still yearn for the wisdom to understand who was which.

So I guess, going forward, I can only hope to become more aware as I interact with people or experience life events…  Am I dealing with a comma, dash, dot dot dot, semicolon, period, question mark or exclamation point?  Or, perhaps, you could make it simple and tell me. Do you hope to be a comma, dash, dot dot dot, semicolon, period, question mark or exclamation point?

Happy Anniversary! Here’s to the Women Who Made Me Strong

Two years ago today.  Wow.  Two years.  Time does slip like sand, doesn’t it?  Two years ago, I walked into a musty office in the basement of the Old Clinic Building to report for the beginning of my career.  I tried to appear well-prepared and confident, but I’m pretty sure I was just scared shitless.  I was just a kid in high heals with some pseudo-fancy diploma and a big smile.  Two years can change a lot though.  Now I have snazzy offices and actual responsibilities, but most importantly, an amazing cohort of women to look up to.

 

Now, I know, I’m not always happy with my job.  It’s high-paced, political, stressful and sometimes just emotionally draining.  My job not only thicken my skin and taught me how to take one on the chin, but also taught me a lot about accepting a smile across the table and sometimes even an arm around my shoulder.  I have learned so much by watching the women around me.  So today, in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health, I have to say Happy Anniversary to the women who made me strong.  

 

To Jackie, who radiates joy in the most pervasive and all-filling way.  When you’re around her, you can’t help but be brimming with sweetness (and not just because she offers candy with a smile at her desk).

 

To Alison, who taught me that sometimes you get to ride your bike to work in a skirt, especially if it gives you extra time to stop by Starbucks.  She also knows when to advise me to drink more and when I really just need to sleep.

 

To Malika, who juggles so many balls from family to work to moving to school, all while managing this wry smile.  I love that smile, especially when she tilts her head back to laugh.

 

To Marie, who shared her daughter’s art work with me.  A reminder of what really matters.  She also never fails to be happy for other’s successes, even when that means they are moving on with their lives.

 

To Shaina, who always finds something to compliment, even when I look like a hot mess, and feel even messier.

 

To Stacy, who makes people feel good when they are talking about money.  This is an incredible talent, that should never be underestimated.

 

To Alex, who has shown me how to live and how to treat people.  She embodies kindness and courage.  I know I can’t do her mentorship justice here, but she has undoubtably changed my life for the better.  She once bravely moved her family to Africa, consistently treats people with loving kindness and glows with pride over her 3 wonderful boys.  I hope my life can model that kind of bravery and love.

 

To Molly, who always seems to know when I need a hug or to sit in her comfy chair by the picture window to talk.  Molly really is wayyyy too cool for me, but she has never once acted like it.  This women has faced so much in the last year.  And while those stresses probably would have flattened me, she still seems to pass life’s good stuff around.

 

To Christina, her girls are beautiful, just like their mom.  Christina not only talks about positive change, but she sees that it comes true in her community.  I’m also infinitely grateful for our decorating rendezvous.

 

To Alice, the essence of strong yet gentle female leadership.  I admit, I still get tongue-tied and nervous around her.  She has this amazing presence about her, and is thoughtful and balanced (despite her statures, both career and height).

 

To both my retired Wanda’s.  You each have such amazing laughs.  They are soul filling, and I miss hearing them around the corner.  I just know you are both still filling the world with goodness, even in retirement. 

 

To Allie, who has moved on to other jobs, but is still one of the greatest friends a girl could ever ask for.  Love you to pieces.

 

There are too many good ‘uns to mention, and I do actually work with some pretty great men too.  But today, I want to say thanks to the women who have made me strong.  You’ve celebrated successes with me (like buying my first home) and stuck by me in the hard times (like having a horribly mean boyfriend).  You’ve taught me what I want my life to look like, and what it means to be a strong, beautiful, wonderful woman.  I’ll never be able to thank you for the joy you have brought me, but today, at least let me say, Happy Anniversary.

Pass the Glue (and Popsicle Sticks too)

Did you ever play jenga growing up?  You know.  The game with wooden blocks that you stack into a tower. Then you remove piece by piece, placing the removed blocks on the top of the tower until the whole tower collapses.  Well today, I played jenga with my life.

 

It started off fine.  My blocks were stacked, sturdy and strong.–  Okay, okay, I lie.  I started two blocks down because of working extra hours and having a stomach bug earlier this week, but despite the two blocks, I still felt like I was standing pretty tall and proud.  Then the day started.  And while no single event blew away my tower, by the end of the day, I was sure to feel the fall.

 

I got called into the toxic office for the day. One block down. Place the weight on top.

I quietly canceled a beloved event for a needy co-worker (canceled twice already). One block down. Place the weight on top.

I dredged up heartbreaks from my past. One block down. Place the weight on top.

I missed my yoga class. One block down. Place the weight on top.

I missed every single beat in a dance. One block down. Place the weight on top.

 

Frustrated with myself, I continued to miss steps all night, and that’s when I felt it.  I took a deep breath in, knowing that if I breathed- even slightly- my tower would collapse.  Sometimes you can hold your breath until you turn purple, but you’re already too off balance- you’re going to tumble.  So tonight, standing in front of dozens of people I barely knew, I felt the fall.  My face still shown its smile; my laugh still carried through the air.  Yet inside I felt the the fall of a girl too tired to stand strong a second longer.

 

I was recently given one of the most amazing gifts in my life.  The gift of joy, sprinkled with good conversation.  It came in the form of popsicle sticks and glue.  Did you know that with a little engineering and ingenuity you can build a bridge out of popsicle sticks that can hold the weight of an entire person!?!  You can.  All it took was gluing a few carefully measured and selected popsicle sticks together and arranging them into a magically appearing bridge.

 

I’ve spent a lot of my life passing on glue and popsicle sticks.  Too afraid to get stuck to the wrong people, only to end up with some of the worst people around.  Though I am warm towards others in need, when it comes to me, I can be a lot like the anti-glue…  not letting too many people too close, just incase… living in utter need of and fear of truly letting in a community to shape things and hold each other together for fear that they won’t measure up and won’t be selected carefully enough.  But what I learned from my friend who passed the glue and popsicles was the added strength in not going at it alone.  Perhaps if I had added some glue to my jenga day, I would not have felt the fall when the little weights started to pile on.

 

So somehow going forward when someone offers me popsicle sticks, I need to learn to smile and gratefully say, ‘Thank you, pass the glue’.  And I hope next time I offer you the glue, you’ll try it too.

Treading in the Deep

“If you don’t get in over you’re head, you’ll never know if you can swim.”  I read it from the whiteboard, shook my head and sighed saying, “Isn’t it better to just never get in THAT deep.”  To my side I heard, “well, it’s a metaphor about life.”  I wanted to slap that girl over the head; of course, I knew it was a metaphor. I just didn’t think I was a ‘getting-in-way-over-my-head’ kinda person.  I especially appreciated this advice coming from a girl who digs her own wells to make sure she’s always in over her head, even when-without her digging- she could be standing on dry land.

When I was a kid, I always wanted to swim out as far as I could.  I gravitated to the deepest ends of the water where you’re feet had no hope of touching.  You just had to swim- swim until you couldn’t swim anymore, and then you had to tread water until you got the strength back up to swim again.  Must of worried my folks sick, but I just loved the deep, the unknown, the feeling that welled up inside by knowing that you must keep moving.

My water risks were a little ridiculous.  Once I swam a lake in Switzerland because I wanted to hike the waterfall on the other side.  The water was cold enough to send your body into spasms. I had to pull from the last bit of strength left in my Sampson’s hair. In the middle of the lake, when I was too far from either shore to reach, I truly thought this was it, I had finally swam out too far.  I was so confused about my direction, I swam sideways for a hundred meters.  But amidst the chaos, I looked down into the water.  Crystal clear.  A perfection of ecology that only the Swiss could dream of; water you could see through for a hundred feet easily.  And in the turmoil of muscle cramps, blue lips, blackness coming into my eyes and a total loss of direction, I found the strength to focus and swim towards shore.  I have never been so happy to make it to shore.  I laughed as I pulled myself into the grass and laid there listening to life around me, feeling the sun’s warmth wicking the water from my body.  I felt alive.  I was alive.

I had something to learn from that women by the whiteboard.  Though unaware during our exchange, I was in suffocatingly deep at the time of our conversation.  But, I was still swimming leisurely.  I had yet to feel the burn of treading water for too long.

We’re all going to get in too deep one day.  Some of us get in too deep by digging.  Some of us get thrown out to sea. Some of us drift and don’t even know how we got there. And well, sometimes, you just got so many tears to get out of your system that your tears pool up until your in over your head.  We’re all going to be in that deep at some point in our lives. When that day comes, are you prepared to swim- until it burns- until after it burns so much you’re afraid you can’t go on?

Every once and a while, when you’re out to sea, someone will toe you a line, but in the busyness of our daily lives, we often don’t even notice that our friends are drowning.  That’s when you have to dig deep and feel the burn from treading water too long.  Gather your strength and swim to shore.  Once you’ve swam the distance, no one can take it away from you.  You’ll always know that you have the grit to find your clarity and kick through the burn of being completely adrift.

I’m glad I swam out too far when I was young.  It was good practice.

I guess I’ve known it since I was little- Deep down, I’ve always known how to swim.

And again or at last… I feel alive.  I am alive.

Lessons from Mediation and Crochet

“You know what you’re problem is…– You don’t know how to just be. You answer every problem. In fact, you have to answer with an achievement.”

“Guess you know why I’ve been successful.” I retorted jokingly, but really wanted to glare him to death. I simmered in my annoyance.

Armed with new information about my imperfections, I set out to learn how to ‘just be’. I know! I’ll make it my new goal to learn how to meditate!

I suck at mediation. ‘1, 2, 3, (you know I once read a study that said meditation is harder for women than men because men tend to think of one thing at a time, and women are multitaskers by nature…. ugh, start over)’.  1!, 2!, 3! (this is not my talent- start over).  1!!!!!, 2!!!!, 3!!!!, Oh I give.’ I suck at mediation.

Sitting down to crochet is a new found talent of mine. I say I took up the hobby because I can’t stand sitting still. But I’m really looking to achieve my way through problems. I appreciate that it gives me something to do with my hands while I wait. The real bliss, though, comes from it being a pointy, weapon-like object to stab things (like my problems) with when I get too bored. My intent was to learn how to pass the doldrums, but it’s funny the things you can learn from your grandmother’s wisdom talents.

The first thing I learned was to take the time to count your progress. It’s not in my nature to do this as I am always looking to my next achievement, but there’s something beautiful about holding up a scarf and knowing, ‘I created that’. It helps to take stock in your progress because you find your mistakes much earlier this way. See, if you make a mistake in crochet, it carries forward to everything you do. And unattended mistake makes a mess of things.

Which leads me to my next revelation… When you make a mistake, fix it. Sooner rather than later. No matter how fancy the cover up, the mistake will just nag at you until you take the time to correct it. Sometimes that means you have to fix your own technique going forward; sometimes that means going back to fix some stitches. Trust me, it’s much more painful to rip apart a lot because you wanted to ignore the error- than to just fix an ugly stitch or two now.

And my most exciting revelation, crocheting is very meditative. I can easily pass an hour with a smile of contentment on my face and in my heart, and for once my monkey chatter brain just rests. It’s nice to just be. Who knew?

New Year’s Resolution: to write more in pencil

My recent favoritism to the insomniac’s lifestyle has drawn me closer to mindless tasks that the strong would cringe at braving. Yet somehow, in the hush of the evening, these tasks seem more appealing.  Perhaps because nobody will know if you fail at them.

The objective for the evening: cleaning my office.  Now, to most this might only seem to be a drab, nuisance of a task.  Nothing more than a necessity.  But my office, conjures the spirit of my mother, a creative project master with the paraphernalia piled in every crevasse to prove it. Tonight I sat among my unfinished art projects, and breathed in the joy of a women realizing she has transformed into her mother. Better yet, after years of teenage arguing, I’m quite satisfied with that revelation.

Upon realizing the project of cleaning my office needed a more ambitious timeline than one evening, I looked around to find one small part of the chaos I could bridle.  I decided to organize my writing utensils.  A containable task among the shambles. Pens in one pile; markers, highlighters and pencils each in their own place.  That’s when I realized I had a hundred pencils for every one of the others.  I haven’t written in pencil in years. Why so many? A pencil is simple enough… Lead (no longer really lead). Plastic (those wooden things are arcaic nowadays).  And the timeless eraser at its crown (funny that the eraser withstood the test of time).

I guess I stopped using them; though, I am not certain why. Pencil markings are messy.  If you write long enough, black smudges will glove your hand; if you write longer, your hand will transfer evidence of its presence everywhere as your hand drags across the page.  Transferring smudges is not always bad.  In children’s artwork, these smudges create the most precious drawings complete with baby fingerprints shaped like dainty flowers. But, the miraculous thing about pencils is in its crown.  You can keep the good marks, and simply erase away the mess.

I’ve been writing in pen for several years now.  Permanent and heavy.  It reeks of absolute professionalism and confidence.  Not much hope of the good stuff rubbing off on anything or anyone else.  Not much hope of erasing the bad either.

I’ve been writing in pen too long.

This year, I resolve to write more in pencil.