Monthly Archives: March 2012

Choices, Control, and Surrender

Over the past month, a string of events both in our personal lives and in the world at large has caused me to reflect about the issues of choice, control, and surrender.

There was the under pressure expansion of our water heater as the temperature regulator presumably failed, which explosively burst both hot and cold water pipes and left the water damage assessor and the plumber scratching their heads, saying, “I’ve never seen anything like it.”  After overhearing my husband tell my father in law that the plumber mentioned houses being blown off the foundations when water heater safety devices fail (and Googling on the topic), I was reminded of how fortunate we were to escape the situation not only with our home and lives intact, but also with minimal damage to our possessions (we live in a rental, so the damage to the house is being handled).

I am thankful for my family, my life, my home.

Then there was the story my mom related to me about a woman in my former hometown that had been killed pulling out of her children’s school in front of a school bus.  I imagined her morning routine, bundling her kids up, making lunches, ensuring everyone had their backpacks, running some errands, going to the school to volunteer, then…her life was just over.  I thought about how she had no idea when she last wiped a grimy face, or gave her children a hug, or locked her front door, or ran the dishwasher, or any of the thousands of little actions we complete a day, that this would be it, the last time she’d do that in her life.  I thought about the heartbreaking loss her children will feel with no mommy to give all that a mother gives to her children and wondered how my daughter would ever comprehend the loss of me.  It still shakes me to think about it, and this poor woman, beloved to some, was a stranger to me.

I am thankful for the gift of my life and every day of motherhood.

Also in my former hometown, tornadoes ripped up neighborhoods of houses, a few miles away from my parents’ home, passing through areas populated with my friends and family members.  My family and friends emerged unscathed, and the community is rallying together to support those affected families who were not as fortunate.

I am thankful for the lives of my family, for my friends, and for the safety of their homes.

Last week, going out for a bite to eat as a family, M, V, and I spun wildly out of control going around a roundabout in completely dry weather. The cause of our fishtailing was inexplicable. Despite others rounding the circle, no one collided and we were able to move on with our drive home and our day resumed normally, though we were a mite rattled.

I am thankful for the safety of my family and of the other drivers on the roundabout. I am thankful our ancient, but paid off, sole, vehicle is intact.

To round out the week, our daughter fell off a chair in the basement, banging her head on the unfinished concrete floor.  No bumps, no bruises (except to her spirit), no injuries.  It could have gone so much differently.

I am thankful for my daughter’s safety and for her heart and smarts.

Additionally, I have recently gone through some personal struggles, which reminded me that we cannot control how others perceive our intentions, our persons, our words, or our hearts.  Nor can we control their actions. We can only control our own actions and choices to forgive or hang onto bitterness.

I am thankful for the charge to love myself and others and for the opportunities of love that come along with the task of forgiveness.

And then there are the ongoing challenges of stay-at-home motherhood:  multiple poop and pee accidents that consume portions of the day spent in cleanup, cranky little girls who skip naps, days of unaccountable resistance where every little interaction feels like a battleground, and finding yourself responding to situations with a harsh or impatient tone rather than a loving one.  Feeling burned out by the monotony of household routines, of nearly every job you do being undone and needing to be done again. Wrestling with the daily decisions you make as a parent and wondering how they will affect the person your child will become.  Wondering about your own identity aside from motherhood; worrying about the future.  Fearing what life could bring to your child, your family, fearing that in the future you’ll regret choices you make today.  Feeling guilty that you aren’t more appreciative, or patient, or understanding, or unselfish, or less fearful or just…more.

I am thankful that days of doubt and struggle pass, and are replaced by days of harmony, of confidence, of trust in myself and my ability to contend with the future when it comes.  I am thankful for the many times when I do show love and patience and care and for forgiveness when I am not at my best.  I am thankful for my home, for the ability to care for my home and family, for the opportunity to be at home with my daughter.

Sometimes life feels out of control.  Sometimes you have to remember that what you do have control over is your own actions and responses.  Sometimes, rather than letting the fear and doubt and suffering of life overwhelm, you just have to surrender the battle to control and let your heart soak in the moments of beauty and love amidst the chaos and randomness of life.

Moments of surrender, of giving up the idea that we have some sort of larger control over our existence, allow for some measure of peace to meet the pain.  The idea that we don’t always have to have the answer, or act perfectly, or that we aren’t even in control of the biggest factor of our life…how much time we have, can be freeing.  It does not mean that we aren’t called to make responsible or loving choices, but it means that even when we make them, we can’t prevent suffering.  We are not in control of suffering.  By relinquishing the perception of control, we can allow our vulnerable selves to receive gifts of love, of understanding, of forgiveness, of thankfulness, of friendship, of lessons that emerge from the struggle to live.  Surrender does not mean a lack of perseverance; rather it requires that we face pain and mortality with a clear perspective, letting go of the grasping, anxious struggle that we often carry around inside of us as we endeavor to protect ourselves from situations, from people, from (reasonably well-considered) risks that might have the potential to hurt us.  It means that we continue to love ourselves and others despite what the world throws our way.  Surrendering to love may be the biggest choice within our control. I believe it is also the path to internal peace.

In my attempts to surrender these past few weeks, I’ve been humbled by the kindness and ongoing support of new and old friends, by the always present love of my family, by the brilliant light that is my daughter, by the care-taking gifts of my husband, by the beauty of the Shenandoah Valley, flowering and lovely in the springtime, by the gifts of my home and my life.  I am grateful.  I am loved and loving.  I am surrendering, one internal battle at a time, one day at a time.

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On Wednesday, I shared with you the process of making a personalized dollhouse for our little daughter. Now, courtesy of my husband’s blog, glitnir76.wordpress.com, I would like to share with you his take on Daddy-Daughter Dollhouse play. It’s funny, it’s unique, and of course, it involves everyone’s favorite Star Wars action figures (some of which have been passed on to V from her Daddy’s own play days). Please take the time to read the post, Playing Dolls, Star Wars Style from my husband, M, and if you like it, be sure to let him know in the comment section!

Glitnir76's Blog

So my wife decorated a beautiful dollhouse for our daughter (V), and we have several types of dolls for her to play with.  Some are traditional, some, well, aren’t.  One day, V asked me to “play dollies” with her, so I opted for the Star Wars bunch (thanks grandma!).  After explaining the scenarios in each room, my wife wanted to take pictures and asked me to write a blog about the story I created.  What follows is, to the best of my recollection, the events that transpired that fun-filled evening. (Click on the images for a closer look…if you dare!)

Our first room shows what might have happened had Luke listened to Yoda and not rushed off to confront Vader and if Han Solo did not survive the carbonite freezing process.  Perhaps Luke and Leia might have realized their  unintentionally-taboo feelings for each other.  I’m sure both would be…

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Darling Dollhouse

Full interior view

Some of you may remember me mentioning that M and I were making a dollhouse for V for Christmas.  While we did not manage to complete the exterior prior to the holiday as it was too cold to ensure spray paint would adhere properly, we did manage to complete the inside of the dollhouse and V has been enjoying it for many months now.  If you decide to construct a dollhouse for your children, make sure that the pieces are not a choking hazard and supervise play appropriately.

Attic space; note the wooden floors.

To start, we purchased a dollhouse frame from our local craft store for $20.00.  Using a friend’s table saw, we cut an additional piece of thick balsa wood to add an additional room to the left side of the house by splitting the single column into two rooms.  We used Monkey Glue and some wedges to get the board to stick.   I painted the interior of the house in gold and purple colors, and painted two of the floors as well, using a mix of paints to create a wood look in the kitchen area. I also sanded and painted the edges of the dollhouse to eliminate splintering.

Attic with furniture.

Using sharp and durable scissors, I sheared off the ends of extra wide craft sticks and wood glued them in an alternating pattern to create a wood floor in the attic.  After gluing, I sanded the floor to smooth.  This was a time consuming and sometimes frustrating process as the sticks often tended to warp when glued.  Using a better quality wood is recommended if you have access to it.

Bedroom (note the mirror on the wall)

For the wallpaper and flooring in the remaining rooms, I selected thick sheets of scrapbooking paper, which I measured, cut, and laminated.  I affixed the paper to the wooden walls using ultra thin double sided magnets so that we can remove the wallpaper for easy cleaning or replacement over the years.  You can also choose to glue the paper to the walls if the magnets aren’t working for you; I would really suggest using an almost paper thin magnet.

Bathroom or second bedroom; small Little's furniture was used here but a larger scale would work better.

For rugs, I cut rectangular pieces of imprinted felt and faux leather scraps that I had left over from a project.  I hope to create curtains and additional accessories at a later date from leftover fabrics.

The kitchen with faux painted wood flooring

I used a circular piece of wood and a spool shaped piece of wood to create a table for V’s kitchen; I glued them together with wood glue. For the mirror in the bedroom, I took a circular miniature frame, backed it with aluminum foil and heavy purple cardstock, then trimmed the edges.

Kitchen with Plan Toys furniture and homemade table.

The remaining furniture in V’s dollhouse is leftovers from my childhood Littles’ furniture set, a Plan Toys kitchen set her Grandpa gave her for Christmas, wooden hutches purchased from the local craft store for a dollar each.  Plan Toys and Ryan’s Room make quality wooden furniture of a scale to work in this size dollhouse.  It is a different scale than V’s Victorian Littles’ set, but it is sturdy and durable for little hands.

Dining room with laminated paper flooring.

With furniture; ready for play!

There are many expensive alternatives for furniture, decor, and detailing a dollhouse.  We may add window frames at a later date or external details like doors, curtains, or decorative edges.  For now, V’s darling dollhouse contains everything she needs for hours of entertainment and creative play.


True Crime, Fictional Crime, Past and Future Worlds: Book Travels

Finished Reading:

Fiction:

My recently completed reading list contains lots of murder, death, and tragedy.  After trudging through the fictional and true stories of loss, I’m looking to read something light and life-filled next (perhaps a revisit to Jan Karon’s Mitford series, as I do at least bi-annually).  Any suggestions?  Leave them in the comment section below.

Change of Heart by Jodi Picoult:  I normally love her books.  My mother and aunt really enjoyed this one, and many of you may as well.  Certainly, the exploration of the death penalty, the criminal justice system, and themes of forgiveness are important themes for literary consideration.  My beef with this book was that one of the central characters to the story was just given way, way, too much tragedy in her life.  I don’t want to spoil it for you, but really, enough was enough, like in the first page, and her story just got more and more disturbing.  And what you find out about the death of her child, well, it just put such a bad taste in my mouth, I couldn’t focus on the larger themes and skimmed through pages I would have otherwise read more thoroughly.  I also thought Picoult’s use of Christian themes was at times excessive and heavy handed. As someone who has often enjoyed Christian literature, the difference between WOW, well done, and groan, over the top sentimentality is apparent in the last scene of the book.  I know there are many who will disagree with me on this one, and I will continue reading Picoult’s generally amazing literary contributions, but this one and I weren’t gelling.

Robopocalypse by Daniel H. Wilson:

What a relevant and interesting story.  The title is literally what this book is about:  a robot apocalypse.  Told through the recordings of “heroes” in the war against the machines, this book is The Sarah Connor Chronicles meets War of the Worlds.  Cars and phones, robots and machines.  Imagine that they all were infected with an artificial intelligence that turns them against humanity.  While there were parts of the story that left some gaps because of the way the book was constructed, I liked the multiple perspectives, and some of the scenes left a haunting and poignant impression.  An interesting, fictional reminder about the role ethics plays in developing technological advances.

The End of the Wasp Season by Denise Mina:

This was a well-written story about a senseless crime committed by two boarding school children.  I did skim a bit, though.  The plot is well conceived and the writing is tight, but I just wasn’t in the mood to digest this one entirely.  Probably too much of the same genre lately!  I would read more of her work, though.

The Printmaker’s Daughter by Katherine Govier:

This was my one departure from crime and apocalyptic tragedy.  It was amazing!  Based on the true story of the Japanese painter Hokusai and his daughter Oei, this book explores the possibility that many works attributed to Hokusai may in fact be hers.  Told through the eyes of Oei, we are drawn into the world of nineteenth century Japan, of the shogun and artistic censorship, of poverty and the transformation of the female role within that society.  This is a very well researched and intricately constructed novel, and I have a whole new appreciation for Japanese art after reading this fictionalized story.  I hope to see Hokusai/Oei’s real life work someday.

V is for Vengeance by Sue Grafton:

What will happen when Grafton gets to Z?  We are getting close to the end of the alphabet, and Grafton’s heroine, Kinsey Millhone is just as likable as ever.  This story connects the death of a privileged young man, the apparent suicide of a shoplifter, a mob related shoplifting ring, and a petty criminal through well developed and well rounded characters.  Grafton elevates her books above other mainstream crime fiction by the way she captures human nature, uses detail to help the reader step into Millhone’s world, and creates characters that are complex and interesting. I look forward to the remainder of this series.

NonFiction

The Murder of the Century by Paul Collins:  A gripping read that reminded me of Devil in the White City in that it really kept my interest.  Collins explores the 1897 New York murder case sensationalized by Joseph Pulitzer and William Randolph Hearst.  Both the case and the history of these newspaper barons were very interesting and read like a novel.

When Evil Came to Good Hart by Mardi Link:  This Michigan true crime story was really fascinating as I spent a great deal of time as a child summering in much the same way on the other side of the state.  Being familiar with many of the names and places mentioned in this true story, I could easily empathize with the family lost to this senseless slaughter.  It is interesting how modern forensics would have likely changed the outcome of this unsolved crime.

Whew.  More than enough fictional and real life tragedy for now; somebody give me some beach read recommends or wholesome reads for my next reading excursions!


Being Present

Being a writer means I spend a lot of time living inside my head.  My body functions, but I’m often mentally multi-tasking; generating blog ideas while completing chores or lying in bed at night, scribbling poetry in parking lots.  I always carry a notebook with me to jot down lines or passages.  Other times I’m lost in the world of others, reading or musing over stories written by someone else.  In my teenage years, I let food burn while immersed in books.  I still don’t know how to navigate half the journeys I’ve traveled as a passenger dozens of times, because I’ve been lost in the pages of a book.  My father used to chide me about this tendency:  “You can’t live life through books, Pam.  Get out and go do something.”  I’d nod, and generally turn a page.

But I’ve missed knowing how to get places.  I’ve tuned in partially to conversations.  I’ve lost sleep.  I’ve chosen time with books and pen over time with people I care about.  I’ll never retrieve those moments. There are costs to being a writer.  When I mentally retreat, I am agitated and irritable when disrupted.  I don’t want to engage.  Sometimes words are like an illicit lover, summoning me away from duties, from reality, from ones who truly love me, leaving me needing ever more time away, another liaison, feeling guilty at wanting to spend so much time focused on my own desires. It’s like an insatiable parasite is leaching my life.

It’s not only words on paper that pull me away from the present.  Though my background in Psychology can help me empathize  with and understand others, and I can reflect insightfully, I struggle to confine my own voice and listen when I am excited about a thought or idea.  I catch myself finishing other people’s sentences, over-talking, assuming, turning the conversation during times when I should be asking questions, seeking additional information to understand more fully.

I know that voice is important to me and the need to create and share through words is part of my being.  As a woman, I’ve sometimes allowed that voice to be dominated through learned submissive behaviors, and in my thirties, I’m now more cognizant of that dynamic and even more reluctant to let go of the power of voice. But when I let that need for voice dominate my ability to engage with others, or stymie my ability to listen and be fully present, I’m allowing an internal, ego-driven, fantasy world to overpower connection to the physical world and to others.

Listening to the tragic stories of those who lost their lives in the recent tornadoes, imagining their last minutes reaching for family, trying to hold on to life, I am reminded the importance of being present in the moment.   Though we’ve settled in a bit more to our life after two years of living in West Virginia, I am so used to every life situation (jobs, friends, homes) being temporary that I still find myself retreating, fearing that connecting, attaching will only cause me pain with the next inevitable transition.  My internal world is so alluring, so comforting, so consistently available.  It is an easy escape.  It is also a place to hide from the fear of loss.  But in retreating into myself, I am already losing memories, losing time, missing out on moments to love.

Hearing about the 15 month old toddler who died as a result of injuries sustained during the tornadoes in Indiana, I find myself snapping out of that internal world to hold my little daughter a little tighter, to soak in her funny quirks and sweet toddler-isms, remembering that mental distraction severs me from the important and unpredictable amount of time I have with her.  Turning away from the computer or my own thoughts to snuggle with my husband, or to ask him questions when he tells me about something that happened during his day, I am choosing connection I can feel.  I am choosing relationships over self-isolating in narrative. The joy in those moments in which I am fully present with my loved ones cannot be replaced by words.  Words cannot fill an empty life.  In fact, only life can provide a foundation of meaning for the words I write.  It is a constant balancing effort, to be present, especially when an internal world feels safer and at times more fulfilling to an introverted writer.  But the practice of living in the physical world, of sensing and experiencing, of connecting with others, is real, and is the force behind all the words I could ever read or write.

Linking up with Shell at


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