Wednesday, July 22, 2015

10 Things Running Taught Me

When I was in middle school we had to run a mile for PE class.  As everyone else finished, they gathered on the bleachers by the track and waited for the rest of us.  Or should I say, they waited for me.  I was THE. VERY. LAST. ONE.  I went home and cried that day because more than anything I wanted to be a runner and I couldn't even finish a mile.  I was never athletic, didn't play sports, and wasn't what anyone would call skinny.  I was frequently sick, bookish, and clumsy...but, by God I had a quick wit, so I didn't totally suck.  I never went on to run as a youth, after all, running was hard, and like most people, I had an aversion to difficulty.  And then, four years ago, I moved to Guam and something changed. I became a runner.  Last May I completed The Great Wall Marathon.  Me, the chubby girl who couldn't finish the mile in eighth grade, finished the THIRD HARDEST MARATHON in the WORLD.  (without injuries, I might add...that's something to be proud of)

During the course of the last few years I have learned so much about myself through running.  I want to share some of those things with you.  Because, maybe you are like I was: you want to, but you just don't think you can.  Listen to me, (I never lie...except on birthdays and at Christmas):  YOU TOTALLY CAN.

*Listed in order from most vain to most meaningful

1) Running gives you pretty skin.

Ever since Ye Olde Puberty I have struggled with "difficult" skin.  Running increases your circulation and most people drink more water when they do it, so that helps flush out the yucky stuff.  See how scientific that was?  I should debate Bill Nye!  Now, I can't solely credit running with that transformation.  Around the time I began running, I drastically changed my diet and that played a huge factor in my  overall health.  As a matter of fact, I got rid of a mysterious autoimmune condition that puzzled doctors and made me sick for several years.  You can read more about it here.

2) Running helps you lose weight

Like I said, I've never been what anyone would call "skinny".  I've been referred to as "healthy", "curvy", "baby manatee" (thanks, Dad) and "pudge" (Dad again).  I carry most of my "healthy" in the second third of my body and have a hard time getting rid of it.  Running regularly, coupled with crossfit and diet change, helped me get down to the leanest I have ever been in my life.

3) Running helped me to shatter my own preconceived ideas about women.

Because the ads in magazines and on TV featuring female runners always show a super thin, young and beautiful woman, I assumed that's how they all looked.  I know, dumb, but I think many of us are unaware how much marketing influences our thoughts, if even subtly.  My running group was comprised of runners of all ages and sizes.  Some were fast and some were slower, but they all had one thing in common: they were runners.

4) Running gives you an endorphin buzz.

In the words of Legally Blonde's Elle Woods: Exercise gives you endorphins.  Endorphins make you happy.  Happy people don't shoot their husbands, they just don't.

5) Running creates a strong heart and lungs.

Like I mentioned earlier, I was a sickly child and teenager.  Before ninth grade I got pneumonia (I spelled that without spellcheck, HEY-O!) and I had chronic bronchitis as I got older.  On top of all that I had a heart murmur and mitral valve prolapse.  After running, weight-lifting, and dietary change, not only can I hold my breath for a really long time, but any trace of the heart murmur and prolapse is gone and I very rarely get sick anymore.   Your heart is a muscle, folks.  Make it a strong one.

6) Running taught me self-discipline.

This is a big one for me.  Even though I wasn't blessed with athletic ability or natural gracefulness, books and school came very easily for me.  I rarely had to study to make A's and I was always on the Dean's List in college.  The things I did came easy and so I never really had to make myself DO anything.  Running changed all of that.  Guam was so hot that we had to start running at 5 or 5:30 in the morning and races began even earlier.  For the first time in my life, I was frequently the first one awake in the house.  Up before even the sun and roosters, having my coffee with the geckos and jungle sounds.  I believe a lack of self-discipline is one of the root problems that prevent people from achieving their goals.  We are often our own worst enemies.

7) Running taught me goal-setting.

This one kind of goes hand-in-hand with the previous point, but it still needs to be noted.  Setting goals was extremely crucial to my success and I have to credit my coach in Guam (Hafa Adai, Matt!) with teaching me that fitness isn't all about how you look.  He challenged me not to set physical goals for myself like a certain number on the scale or a size in clothes.  Instead, he suggested we set athletic goals for me to accomplish and beat.  This was a game-changer.  For the first time in my life, someone told me I could be "athletic", even if that meant setting a number of squat jumps or miles per hour to beat against MYSELF.   It was only ever against myself.  Like I mentioned before, up until that point, life had been easy for me.   I'm not a competitive person by nature, I want everyone to win.  BUT...seeing my previous record and then shattering it gave me a very empowering sense of accomplishment and that translated into every aspect of my life ultimately making me a better human.

8) Running taught me to push myself.

Like I said, most people have an aversion to difficulty.  It's just human nature.  The body hurts, it says stop, and we listen.  It's normal to want to take the easiest route.  But guess what I learned through running (and some really difficult patches in life)?  Usually the harder way is more rewarding.  In order to run further or run faster, I had to push my body out of its comfort zone, and it hurt.  I'm not going to lie.  There were times (like this morning) that my lungs and legs burned and my heart was pounding, but I was determined to run all the way home faster than the previous time.  General George Patton said the following: Now if you are going to win any battle you have to do one thing.  You have to make the mind run the body.  Never let the body tell the mind what to do.  The body will always give up.  It is always tired- morning, noon, and night.  But the body is never tired if the mind is not tired.

9) Running enabled me to be a better role model for my daughters.

I have two daughters.  They are amazing little creatures and I knew after my last bout with my autoimmune condition that I had to make some serious changes in my life, for them, for me, for all of us.  I wanted them to know that keeping your body strong and healthy is nearly as important as exercising the mind.  I wanted them to see me overcome myself and perhaps someday use those memories to help them push through their own personal struggles.  I wanted to be more than love for them.  I wanted to be strength as well.  My husband would bring them to my races and when I would see them waiting for me and cheering me on at the finish line, my eyes would instantly tear up and I would be overcome with such a vast and intense array of emotions, only a woman and mother could fully comprehend them.  Running, and distance running in particular, is about perseverance.  And so many times as is the case with life, our most difficult moments are the ones that require us to persevere when it hurts and when it is hard.  My running showed my girls that they can persevere.

10) Running taught me that I can overcome myself.

Nearly every time I run I think about middle-school Jill.  I think about how impossible and painful a thing running seemed to be and how when I cried in my room that day, long ago, and thought I would never be able to do it, that I was giving in to my own lying voices.  We are always at war with our thoughts.  They lie to us constantly  A wise man once said, "the mind is the greatest battlefield upon which we will ever fight."  Before my marathon as we stood huddled together in the early morning light of the Chinese countryside with the enormity of The Great Wall looming before us, I was afraid, so very afraid.  My own lying voices told me I wouldn't be able to finish, and that it would hurt so much.  I thought about my daughters and I remembered eighth grade Jill and I told the voices to SHUT UP  because I was going to FINISH THIS.  And after hours of grueling stairs and breathtaking views, I finally crossed the finish line in Yin-Yang square and put the negative voices to death for good.  Because I CAN do whatever I set my mind to accomplish, and if I can, then you certainly can too.  There are moments when I wish I could travel back in time to my eighth grade bedroom in rural Pennsylvania. I would place my Great Wall medal in my younger self's hands and tell her, "don't worry, you'll never believe what you're going to do one day."

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

I Quit Facebook

Yesterday I decided to give up Facebook.  This decision came on the heels of some recent heated exchanges between people of very different opinions than myself after I posted remarks they happened to disagree with.  It's not very often that my anger is stirred...I've come a long way since High School where I would have dealt violently with any heated exchange.  No, seriously, I did.

I realized something during these exchanges.  Something most people probably already know but I suppose took me longer to really grasp.  People treat each other differently when they're separated by a screen.  Let's blame the evil blue light.  But it's true.  And for someone who values personal authenticity and kindness above most things, that was a painful thing to realize.  I became obsessed with reading the vitriolic rants between people on the comments section of news articles.  I didn't understand how we arrived at this place.  A place where it was ok to talk to each other that way. A place where all the ways our parents taught us to be kind to one another was lost.  A place where people were reduced to a tiny square profile picture and could hide behind their relative anonymity and hurl their hate like poop from monkey's butt.  Yes, I just went there.  Because that's how it feels.  Ugly.  So I decided to end it.  When the thing you love no longer brings you joy, let the thing go.

The first hour I felt almost giddy.  I deleted the Facebook app off my iPhone and yet I found myself mentally wanting to pick it up and check it every few minutes like some Pavlovian dog, looking for her electronic reward.  No.  There would be no more scrolling through feed filled with adorable animal videos, daily play-by-plays (those are the worst), political this or thats, or pictures of children and selfies of their parents.  No more.  I was done.  Really, really done.  I made a decision to be completely present with whatever I was doing and whomever I was with.

I made dinner with my eldest daughter and we talked about cooking.  I taught her how to make Chicken Saltimbocca.  And in doing so, a great truth became revealed to me: My obsession with Facebook had fractured my life into a million pictures and blurbs about life, but my REAL LIFE had been reduced to something less than authentic.  I was never fully present because I was always looking for the quote or the perfect photo.  As a writer, mentally collecting moments to later capture on paper isn't an uncommon thing, but it is something that I used to do alone, and in one fell swoop.  Smart phones and instant access to everyone caused me to interrupt real life over and over and over again in the attempt of capturing it.  But all I was really doing was stopping it from happening organically.  "WAIT!  Let me take your picture!"  "Hold on, I have to put that on Facebook!"  "Just a minute, I want to read these comments."  "SELLLLLLFIEEEE!"

In my attempt to stay connected to people, I became disconnected from the perfect minutia of my real life.  The only one I will ever have.  That realization of that truth both hurt deeply and set me gloriously free from the bond I had with Facebook.  I saw so many moments pass before my mind's eye that I missed because I was never wholly there.  I vowed not to let that happen again.  I would delve wholly into the minutia, the details of my daily life and I would find joy there.

I drank too much wine at dinner, probably because I'm just a fast drinker and probably because I was excited about my new journey into Complete Presentness, I just coined that term (I think), feel free to use it.  (and this is where I feel compelled to enter an emoji, because that is what I have been reduced to. ) I went to the bathroom without my phone.  This was kind if a big deal.  I then remembered that before smart phones, I put books on the back of the toilet for those very occasions.  Oh yeah!  Books are for reading, not just decoration!  WHO KNEW?!

I walked the dog with my daughter and we found a huge feather.  I did not take a picture of it because memories don't have to be stored in a phone, hearts are good for that too.  I watched the season finale of Game of Thrones with my husband, while our six year old kept knocking on the door and telling us that she "just can't sweep, because I'm not tired" to which we yelled back through the locked door ""too bad!  It's past nine o'clock, get back in bed!".  I suppose some things will never change.  I left before the show ended because I knew what was going g to happen (thanks to Facebook) and couldn't bear to watch.  I went to bed and read some of a book instead of looking at my phone.  I used to read things, BIG THINGS!  I mentally reclaimed my time to read books.

I woke up this morning and noticed that so many people had text me through the night, and I realized something.  If people care about each other, they find a way to connect with them, wether it be through a phone call or text or letter.  Hokey as it may sound, love will find a way.  And it does.  And it did.  So for now, I relish the freedom that quitting Facebook has afforded me.  My mother says that this will wear off and it will get hard not to go back, but I am a very stubborn person and sometimes I can use that power for good.  I guess we shall see.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

On Moving Cross-Country and Paleo Spaghetti Pie

Some of you may know that we ( The children, the animals and Jeremy and myself) travelled (by vehicle) from Indiana to California recently.  To Live.  For three months.  Because we like to live on the edge…or something.  Taking a cross-country trip with your husband and children is a huge undertaking for normal  families but ours had just ended a long deployment where my husband was at sea form six months.  He came back after Christmas, we had a whirlwind visit with some family and we loaded our trailer as fast as humanly possible because IT. WAS. COLD.  and we headed off into the sunset (literally) for four days.  You guys, deployments are hard for numerous reasons mainly: WILL MY SPOUSE COMEBACK ALIVE AND WITH ALL HIS LIMBS ATTACHED?! And then there are the more subtle concerns like: I've been the sole parent for six months, that's NOT how I do it!  Sooooo, there is a little readjusting period.  We learned how to do this crazy dance as a team again.  So there was that.  A whole lot of me telling Jeremy: YOU'RE DOING IT WRONG!  And Jeremy all: GET OUT OF MY FACE, WOMAN, WHERE I'M FROM PEOPLE CALL ME SIR!

So, yeah, it takes some getting used to, but also, and I think even more importantly, road trips are how you know how much you love someone.  Because if you can ride in a stinky, crowded car with someone for two weeks, and not want to kill them, that's amore!  That's how I knew I loved Jeremy when we were dating.  We drove from Indiana to Mexico and back in 10 days and I could still stand the sight of him afterward.  AMORE!

Granted, this trip was a little different…many years later, I didn't have the luxury of napping in the car,  This time every time I would drift off someone inevitably needed a DRINK! or a POTTY BREAK! or THE DOG FARTED WE ARE ALL GOING TO DIE!  
Funny aside: At one point somewhere on the fourth and final day, someone (let's blame the dog) had terrible gas and Ari, holding the cat and trying not to gag, said, "Well, the cat has eight lives left."  She's funny, that one.  

And now here we are.  In our little apartment in the city.  Is this life even real?  Someone pinch me! (Didn't I say that in Guam too?) Outside of the homeless guy waking everyone every other morning screaming through the streets, it's near perfect.  I could write so much more about the whole journey.  About all the little details that I tucked away in my heart.  Those little gems in life that we only get when we really stop all the noise and just…live.  But right now I'm still decompressing.  I'm feeling all the feels…and there are so many of them. FEELINGS! So instead, let me tell yo about how we are transitioning from EAT ALL THE THINGS MADE OF BREAD AND SUGAR AT GRANDMA'S to: LET'S EAT CLEAN AND HEALTHY AGAIN!

You guys, my kids diet got so bad when Jeremy was deployed.  I know, I'm the lady on her food soapbox all the time but sometimes, you just have to put life on autopilot and do the best you can with what you have.  For me, that meant not arguing with my children over EVERYTHING and making them pretty much whatever they wanted for dinner.  HERE!  You want cereal?! Eat it!  But, as you can probably image, that did not end well.  

Jeremy came home, we drove a lot, ate many donuts and slices of pizza and then were all: NO MAS!  I feel like a pregnant hamster! So back to paleo we were to go as a family, but I wondered how to do it without making my children completely freak out.  PALEO SPAGHETTI PIE!  I modified some ingredients to for what I had on hand and to our tastes which I will note following link .  Click HERE for the recipe.

Here are my modifications: I don't like sausage as much in this recipe.  It's too fatty and I felt it made everything too soggy.  A key with convincing someone that Spaghetti Squash is actual spaghetti is texture and consistency.  So I used lean, grass-fed ground beef instead.  I also omitted the onion, simply because I didn't have one on hand, and lastly I added about a half a cup of parmesan on top.  Primal, not Paleo.  
It's me cooking in my (kind of mine) kitchen for my family for the first time in over six months.  

When my children asked what was for dinner I just said SPAGHETTI PIE!  YAY!!!  And luckily my excessive joy quelled their suspicions…orrrr it was actually just as delicious as I thought it was because BOTH of them ate it!  DUNDUNDUN! MIRACLES!  

I served it with a salad of mixed greens and what I had on hand…even though the grocery store is only two blocks away.  SERIOUSLY! Topped with a Balsamic Dressing by Emeril which I also modified to make Paleo/ Whole 30 friendly.  Recipe HERE. I omitted the sugar and added about a third a cup more balsamic.  

So here is dinner before we attacked it: 

 For the salad I added mixed greens, butter lettuce, grape tomatoes, English cucumber, a few chopped macadamia nuts, red onion, and a small sprinkling of organic Parmesan. 

And here is dinner afterwards:  Ellie, my pickiest eater had SECONDS!  And after Ari telling me she doesn't like hamburger, she left the table and then must have a had a Come To Jesus with herself in her room because she returned liking hamburger AFTER ALL and ate most of the food on her plate. 

The moral of the story is:  LIE TO YOUR KIDS!  No, just kidding.  Just be vague and moderately deceptive about what they are actually eating until they for sure love it and eat it all the time.  OR NEVER TELL until they're grown and ask for the recipe themselves and then: SHOCK AND AWE!  YOU MEAN TO TELL ME I WAS EATING A VEGETABLE THIS WHOLE TIME?!?!  What kind of horrible parent tricks their children in such a way?!

I also made this lemon and raspberry infused water because I picked nine million citrus fruits at my friend's house in Phoenix on the way here.  

Also, cats are apparently necessary to unload the dishwasher.  Whatever it takes, kid,  

Stay tuned for more news on the dietary reprogramming of our family and other current events that may or may not involve my FEELINGS!!!!!

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Poetry, Instead of Tacos on Tuesday


I left my heart unguarded
From its bony cage be free.
It took a walk upon my arm
And rested on my sleeve.

There it sat alone
A beating mass of vulnerability.
It basked in love and love and hope
And then began to bleed.

It hurts to love, it cried
As it bled upon my arm.
Turn it off and make it stop
lock me up, safe from harm!

So I lifted it, tender and aching
And stuck it back within my chest.
Shut the bony bars around it
Locked it tightly, no more mess.

Now I keep a close watch on it
No more feelings no more pain.
The price we pay since then is
No more loss but no more gain.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Tired of Being Tired: Natural Cures for Insomnia That Don't Include Death and Propofol

Sleep.  That thing we hated to do as kids but pine for as adults.  It's strange, really.  Our bodies need so much of it, to heal, to grow, to rest.  And yet it seems that the older I got, the harder it became for me to get good, quality sleep.  The kind where you actually wake up in the morning feeling refreshed.

I blame my children, because (for one) I have to get some blaming of my own in before they grow up and blame me for everything bad in their lives! Those kids!  Always ruining my fun AND spotless floors!  My insomnia took a turn into scary sleep-deprivation territory during the sixth month of my first pregnancy.  This wasn't your typical get out of bed a hundred times a night to pee because you're pregnant, on top of that I had heartburn so bad that I couldn't lie down flat.  And in case you're wondering, YES she was in fact a hairy baby.  But don't worry, she has grown into a lovely not-so-hairy girl.  So during this phase it got so bad that my OB prescribed me Ambien.  Yes, while pregnant. I was desperate.

And you parents know the drill.  The baby finally arrived and we entered a Brave New World of sleeplessness, but at least now we had something to display to account for our crazy-eyes.  My husband deployed four weeks after our first daughter was born and I (once again) moved back in with my parents.  Though I still didn't sleep well, I somehow made a routine that worked and time passed.

Fast forward a couple of years and baby number two was headed our way.  If you've been reading this blog for any length of time then you know that I had complications during that pregnancy that caused me to lose sight and have our baby a few weeks early during what I thought was just a visit home to Indiana.  You can read about that by clicking HERE and HERE aaaaaaaand HERE.  At one point doctors thought I had toxoplasmosis (which is gross and scary) in my eye and that's what was causing my blindness and infections, BUT... since then I have been told it is some form of autoimmune reaction, to what we do not yet know.  But my eye apparently hates me and wants to leave.  I've offered to poke it out if it doesn't straighten up, and apparently my threats worked because it hasn't reactivated in three years, THANK GOD!

During that time though I began researching my health and came across a way of eating called paleo, which you can also read about at length if you scroll back through posts on this blog. In a nutshell, it eliminates the most common inflammation-causing foods.  Changing the way that I ate changed my health and I firmly believe that is the reason why my eye hasn't flared up since then.  But…despite those positive changes (and they really have been amazing, beyond just my eye's health) I still suffered from my chronic insomnia.  I really think that being on subconscious alert for noises coming from a baby monitor for years on end through two back to back children does give you some form of parental PTSD.  Sneeze or shuffle your feet under the covers and I'm all:  WHOISITAND WHATDOYOUNEED?!?!  And so I took drugs to sleep.  Again.  But the odd thing about it was that the sleep they afforded me still didn't seem completely restful.  This had been going on for five years and I was pretty sick of it.  Jeremy liked to lecture me about my phone and how blue light kills melatonin and how HE KNOWS BECAUSE NIH TOLD HIM SO!!!!  To which I would always reply by pulling the covers off of him and telling him to hush while I looked at my phone under the covers.

And then we moved across the world again and he deployed again and I moved back to my parent's…again.  All these huge life changes not only added a lot of stress to my life, but they threw my sleep into an even bigger maelstrom.  New bed, new house, new sounds, new time zone ALL THE WAY ON THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WORLD.  I completed my third Whole30 (which is a very strict form of paleo intended to reset the body and eliminate more problem foods).  If interested, you can read about that HERE and HERE.  I was able to finally stop the sleep meds for a while but my sleep still felt fitful and I would wake feeling like I wasn't rested.  So. Over. It.  They call it Beauty Sleep for a reason, and I wasn't getting it.

Among the kabillion other changes we made when we got home, I joined a gym and hired a personal trainer (because I like to pay people good money to yell at me and make me do painful things, I blame my father)  I talked to him about some of my nutrition and health issues and he referred me to Austin Dossey, who was the first person EVER that I had talked to who understood what I was saying about the connection with food and inflammation.  Do you know how awesome that is after doctors and the majority of your family blow you off and act like you're crazy for years?  They're all: Shhhhh, don't start talking to Jillian about food, she's got some "unorthodox" ideas about how it can actually impact your health.  THE NOTION!!  PSHAW!

I talked about my insomnia and how I felt that my lack of productive sleep was really a big factor to my seeming inability to ever feel really good despite my dietary changes.  He recommended I take some supplements and change a few things, which I will lay out for you in detail.  YOU GUYS!  I have to tell you, it all worked!  I did everything he said, some of which I had never heard of and some I already knew but I guess was just never desperate enough to do (*cough* get rid of the phone in bed*cough*). I have been sleeping-medication free for a week now and not only is that a triumph but something unheard of has happened:  As soon as I fall asleep, I don't wake up again until morning, meaning I don't even remember turning over (I am a chronic pillow flipper, COLD SIDE RULES!).  I literally fall asleep and wake up in the morning like a doe-eyed Disney princess sprinkling cheer like glitter at a kindergarten craft party.  Ask my husband, ask anyone who knows me, I don't do that.  I am the evil, scowling morning person.  At least until the second cup of coffee.

I thought that was just my personality.  Morning bitchy lady.  I have snarled at my husband for being too cheerful before I had coffee, but I now think it was because I was never truly rested.

So here is what Austin recommended I take and what I did:

Multi-vitamins with Relora

Lifestyle changes:
Stop using blue light in bed (this includes iPhones, iPads, computer screens) I am sooooo going to hear about a year's worth of I TOLD YOU SO's from my husband but HE WAS RIGHT!

Get out of bed when your body wakes up, this allows your  body to develop natural circadian rhythms. For me, this had been around 5:45 every morning.

Stop drinking alcohol…this was hard. I like my wine.  And I confess I had some this weekend, but I didn't sleep as well as the nights without it.

Eliminated caffeine after 3'oclock

It seems (from a plethora of late-night Facebook statues) that many people I know suffer from the same affliction as I did.  I wrote this in the hope that it might help someone out there.  Someone who is tired of being tired.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Letter to a Spider

Dear Spider Outside My Bedroom Window,

If I am being completely honest (which I usually am, it's a sort of curse) then I must confess that I neither like you nor your species.  But, over the past several weeks I have observed your life with a morbid curiosity since you took up residence on the post outside my window.

I misjudged you.  Though still terrifying and nightmarish, you aren't the complete monster I presumed of you.  You would work tirelessly every morning to repair your web with fastidious dedication, and then…you would wait, still and silent, and with the patience of Job.  Your legs outstretched in pairs, making it look as if you only had four, a trick perhaps or was it just more comfortable that way?  When your unsuspecting lunch or dinner would come flying into your stringed trap of viscosity, you attacked with lightning speed.  This was the part that always disgusted me, I reduced you to a merciless killer.  I would watch in horror as you put to death and mummified insect after insect.  But I suppose we all have to eat, and just like you, I too feed on things that were once living.  I'm just far removed from the killing process. My food comes to me already dead and wrapped.  You are the butcher and the diner at your own feast.

As I watched you kill, I began to realize that you are not as merciless as I had presumed.  You would complete the process as swiftly as possible and my respect for your kind grew, if only a little.   Don't get me wrong though, I'm not inviting you or your family for tea.  We still aren't friends.  But perhaps I understand you better.

And now after countless sunups and glorious flaming orange and pink ocean sundowns (to which you have had an excellent vantage point by the way), I see that you are dying.  Your web has remained in broken disrepair for several days now and you lie in a crumpled heap in the middle of it.   Your normally outstretched legs curled inward and sideways.  Your body moves only occasionally but it is sharp and spastic as if a convulsion of pain has overtaken it.  I am watching you die with what I realize is sadness.  You are all alone in your broken web.  And I want to tell you that you were not all alone.  I watched you and I observed your life.  I resisted the urge to smash you, an urge which comes from a very instinctive place I might add.  It is almost knee-jerk for me to kill your kind.  Your life was short and still and at times, supremely violent.  You hung silent above the green grass where my children run barefoot and laughing.  We saw the same stars at night, only you saw them with so many more eyes, I wonder what that looked like.

Window Spider, does it hurt to die? Does the blazing sun shine brighter as the light inside of you fades and you fall to the Earth to become part of it?  Do you even know that you are dying? I will watch you from my window and when your spindly frame no longer shows black in the glass, I will sometimes remember you, because once you lived, just like me, even if you were only a spider.  I have seen you and so have the eyes of God.

Goodbye little spider.

Friday, January 10, 2014

The Things They Love

I awake in the early morning hours, before dawn.  Shuffling to the bathroom in a haze of lifting sleep, I stumble over something on the floor and hit my foot on the wall.  A flash of pain shoots up from my foot and meets a burst of anger in the middle where it has raced to my gut in the form of a stifled scream.  Don't wake the children.  Bending over, I pick the thing up that caused me to trip and see that it is a doll.  Four plastic limbs and a head full of strands of blond plastic hair attached to a soft cloth body.  A Christmas present I often find lying on the floor these days.  I set her outside the door of the children's room, and make a mental note to remind them to keep their stuff put away.  It's a thing I say a lot these days.

11:30 am and I arrive home from errands to an empty house.  Everyone has gone to their respective jobs. Husband to work, making smiles more beautiful, children to school, filling their heads with bits of this and that that the world deems essential.  I am alone and it is quiet.  A dehumidifier hums a melancholy, monotone tune from two rooms away and I can hear a cat playing with a bit of paper not far from me.  Scanning the kitchen I notice that there are little messes everywhere.  An empty box, left on the counter.  Three stuffed toys, on the floor, forgotten in the haste of the early morning rush.  The telltale signs that someone had a banana and possibly a yogurt recently lay on the table, voiceless tattle-tales in the din of silence.

I feel myself beginning to become angry as I survey the mess that I bear in my perpetual state of domestic martyrdom.  I find myself becoming a broken record lately. Am I the only one who cares about the messes around here?  If you can't put this away, I'm going to take it.  All I EVER do is clean!
My life is so many things, so many thoughts begging to be heard, begging for a few moments of my time, but it rarely comes.  In my self-pity I realize that I have become reduced to a simple maid, and not even one that gets to wear a cute costume and have a French name like Babette.  No, the scullery kind, in clothes that children use to wipe their noses on and muddy-pawed canine's jump onto in gleeful abandon.  Is this what is to become of my life?  MY life.  Is this my future?  My mind's eye envisions a home, decades from this one in which I am chasing grown children and their children around begging them to hang up their coats in the proper location and for the love of Pete, put your dishes in the dishwasher! as I drag behind them, gray and wizened, clothes still full of boogers and muddy paw prints, only from a new generation.

And then I look to the three stuffed animals on the floor…and I stop.    Two puppies and a cat, having tea.  They sit in a small circle and in the midst of them sits a tiny tea pot, pink and painted with a picture of Hello Kitty, her likeness framed in yellow flowers.  Next to that sits a matching tin plate, and on it three cloth petit-fours.  They are having tea.  I am given clarity in this moment and I see something outside of toys not in their proper homes and more messes for me to rectify.  This is the imagination of my child, laid out in still-life before my eyes, magic that I can behold.  My beautiful child, full of wonder and mischief, set this scene before me and ,in that moment, I understood that she loved those toys as if they were real.  To her they are real.  This deep understanding came in a flash, like lightning, and it pained my heart.  All of this magic happening around me and I, lost outside of it, trapped in the agony and seeming redundancy of my own predicament, was missing it.

Suddenly, I had new eyes.  There was love and magic everywhere I looked.  The empty box on the counter had contained something that the man I love had been waiting for for a long time.  Its arrival had made him as happy as a child at Christmas but I had failed to see that because I was too busy bemoaning the sink full of dishes.  The shoes kicked off in haste and hiding bottoms up half way under the sofa were no longer another burden for me to bear.  They were the vessels that carried the precious little feet of my child to whatever adventures awaited her.  An unmade bed was no longer another chore, but  a place that harbored and facilitated dreams, and I carefully set it to right, smiling at the sleepy visions that would come and praying for them to be full of fancy and wondrous things as I smoothed the sheets and placed each stuffed animal in a different animated position.

So often I value time with my own thoughts so highly that I become lost inside of my own head and it becomes my prison, shutting me out from the rest of the noise and the magic.  My eyes begin to grow blinders and my world shrinks to a tiny microcosm of my own feelings and pain.  But how much more is life than this!  What a greater joy there is to be had when we behold our circumstances through eyes that seek to find the love and magic that is always present before us, if only we take the time, and lose enough of ourselves to see it.    Because in the end, we are our own greatest hindrance.

So now, as I empty the dishwasher for the second time in a day, it is no longer a tedious chore, keeping me from what I REALLY want to do.  Now it is a time to reflect upon the hands that lifted food to their mouths from these plates, the words and stories that were shared as we gathered around them and fed ourselves.  Love happened here, even if I didn't notice it. I lean over to the dishwasher to set the plate inside and it slides out of my soapy fingers and comes to rest with a clink next to the others.  As I look around the room again at what I once beheld in anger and frustration, I now see tiny moments of lives that have forever slipped into the black, velvety folds of the past. Moments of laughter and pretend, chaos and joy, and each one of them beautiful for its uniqueness and humanity.

It is a beautiful mess.