To Mothers

Happy Mother’s Day to all the women who mother. This day is about honoring the first relationship human beings experience through the process of birth. Rightly so. But giving birth is only one element of mothering, and many women reach out to nurture, encourage, protect, and sacrifice for those they love…for those they mother.

Motherhood is a pay it forward business and not for the faint of heart. But worth it. So worth it!

I thank the women who have inspired me to be a better mom, who challenge me to continue to grow and mature in this role. First to my mom, and then to other women in my life who demonstrate unfailing love and commitment, thank you. Bless you.

“Of all the rights of women,
the greatest is to be a mother.”

Riley’s table

Riley, two-year-old princess and budding dictator, came to visit at Thanksgiving, bringing her parents along. Believe me, a two-year-old is always the star of the show, whatever the personality or parenting style may be. This is not to say that she is intentionally allowed to run wild, or take over…there’s a lot of effort going into training, molding, shaping, squashing, and occasionally silencing the little angel. I say all of this with a smile on my face and a wealth of love in my heart. She is a joy, and a bundle of energy, and a two-year-old. I know, I already said that…but it bears repeating.

So on her visit to Gram and PB’s house…she had been to Alaska once before, when she was about eight months, but she wasn’t really mobile yet, so that hardly counts…she explored a bit…got comfy with all the rooms and beds and spaces under the breakfast bench in the kitchen, and craftily hid small toys in places that would take me months to discover. I like to think that we’ll be fully recovered before her next trip.

Her most lasting gift, other than the photos we took, was a small inscription on my pine coffee table. Now, I’ve had this table and some matching pieces since the early 90s…these are classic, traditional Southern-Living-look pieces that have served me well, and migrated about the country from Michigan to Colorado to Alaska with scarcely a mark. But now, the coffee table has met Riley.

On the afternoon of Thanksgiving, I was doing something in the kitchen (my native habitat), when I heard an outburst of “NO RILEY, DON’T DO THAT!” coming from the living room. I rushed in to see if she was ok…not really concerned about anything but her…and saw that she had very thoughtfully been signing the coffee table with a blue ball point pen. This is her handiwork:

Riley’s signature

And although I immediately (truly!) recognized that it was her toddler attempt to leave a memento of her stay, and I also (immediately!) realized that the table just grew in value to me…after all, it was only valuable to me anyway…I must admit, I did give it a good polishing with a variety of products, hoping to at least remove the blue from the marks…I knew those were carved to last.

Well, I didn’t get the blue out, and now, as I look across the surface, that’s pretty much all I see anymore. But it’s growing on me. I’ve already decided that Riley will inherit this piece…whatever else I have to leave to her, she’s getting this table. It’s solid, and it’s hers. She put her stamp on it. And I’m ok with that.

Joking aside, it’s really a great metaphor for the experience of parenting (and now grand-parenting) in general…These little people mark on your heart, little knowing or understanding that they’re leaving a permanent imprint of themselves in your life. Some marks are more on the order of medals, others are definitely scars. But the surface and the marks are unique to the parent and child. (Or grandparent…I keep forgetting I’m in the second category now.) I’ll never look at my coffee table without a reminder of the little girl who signed it. And truly, even though the marks are blue, and don’t really belong in my color scheme, because she put them there, they’re right at home in my space, and in my heart.

If you had an essentially happy childhood, that tends to dwell with you. Tracy Kidder

December wisdom

There’s a lot of wisdom floating around this time of year…I can find advice on how to create a magical Christmas, or how to experience a calm and serene holiday. There are tips for frugal giving and creative giving. There are recipes everywhere. I read how to make peace with your family, or how to find peace in spite of your family. We can all get along, or agree to disagree and not stress…whatever your point of view, there’s an article, or a blog post, or even a book, to support it.

I confess, there are times when almost all of these opinions fit my mood. I have my moments. Who wouldn’t want to create the perfect Christmas scene? Or the memorable family moment? And yet, I also want the quiet, the calm, the focus, of saying “Enough!” I don’t want to be all about the externals and neglect the important. I want to be generous, and yet not foolish…I want to do for others, but I don’t want to be undone by my efforts to do it all, have it all, be all.

So, in the spirit of seeking balance and vision during this month of magic, which is also a month of stress, consider these pearls:

Stop the glorification of busy.

Think the best of each other, especially of those you say you love. Assume the good, and doubt the bad. ~ Jeffrey R. Holland

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Practice the pause. When in doubt, pause. When angry, pause. When tired, pause. When stressed, pause. And whenever you pause, pray!

“Talking about our problems is our greatest addiction. Break the habit. Talk about your joys.” ~ Rita Schiano

 

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“Grace isn’t a little prayer you say before receiving a meal. It’s a way to live.”

“I will hold myself to a standard of grace, not perfection.”

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Countdown to wonder

Thanksgiving is done, and December is around the corner. In “normal” years, I’d be thinking Christmas. Gifts, cards, food, decorating, tree, travel…all the trimmings. This year I’m thinking baby. Little Jack is just a few weeks out, and I’m ramping up to get work projects done and make sure the home fires stay burning while I’m on baby duty. Not that I mind. It’s a treat to look forward to, and whether I’m caring for little Riley, precocious two-year-old, or snuggling newborn Jack, I’m excited to experience the miracle of life again, courtesy of Stephanie.

Riley was five weeks early. Jack may stay tucked until his due date, mid-January. But if he’s an early bird too, Christmas could bring a little extra excitement this year. Of course healthy is the goal, and no one is rushing him. But the clock is definitely ticking. Good thing Seattle is only a short flight away!

Being with Riley this last week reminded me again that children are vessels of wonder. They’re work, and expense, and a never-ending draw on energy. But beyond the effort, there’s effortless charm. She turns it on, and I’m hooked…this little girl melts my heart, and she isn’t even trying.

I thought I was having a great time with one little one. Now, for a few brief months, I’ll have the best of both worlds when we visit: a cuddly baby, and a busy little girl who is a sponge, picking up language and making it her own. She’s a funny little commenter on her world, and you never quite know how she’s going to interpret the moment.

This year, I’m streamlining tradition. There’ll be other years for decking the halls, and rolling out the red carpet. This year, I’m just packing a bag and getting prepared. When babies come, you go. Thankfully there are many helping hands, so I’ll wait here until I get the call. Then, whatever the date, my Christmas present will be here, right on time…Jack time.

                                  Riley and Jack

Little #2

So this week I get to be the proud mom in my blog posts: yesterday with a birthday wish to my son, and today, an announcement from my daughter:

Baby #2 is joining the family. Riley will be a big sister in January, and Stephanie and Matt will be in the thick of parenting with a not-quite-three year old and a newborn. The lucky guys! Lots of work, but wonderful, meaningful…the best stuff of life.

Watching this unfold is fun, almost as much as when I was in a leading role. It’s a lot more restful, from this vantage point! I can’t wait until Riley understands her new position. She’s already quite the little firstborn. I recognize the type you know, since I am one, I’m married to one, and I gave birth to one. Firstborns are a little bossy. We just can’t help ourselves. We like to make sure things are done. And Stephanie and Matt have exactly the same mix in family order that Rob and I had. Two firstborns married, had their firstborn, and now will add a baby to the mix.

I always say that any family dysfunction we had was the result of our mix of three first-borns and a baby, in birth order. Three of us always wanted to direct, and the youngest one marched to his own drummer. Well, maybe that was his best option, with three of us leading the way all the time.

Anyway, exciting, happy news! I got it as a mother’s day present, but it wasn’t my secret to share, until today. Today the little ultrasound image is up on Stephanie’s Facebook page. I’m a believer in letting the one with the big news share the big news. So now that’s done, and I can share it too.

Can’t wait for January and a new little to cuddle!

My mom

I’m not going to be with my mom tomorrow, although we’ll have a chance to celebrate a belated Mother’s Day together in a couple of weeks. It would be nice to be with her on the day. But often we make do with phone calls to mark special events, the price of living many states apart.

While I won’t be with her in person, she knows my heart. In many ways, we are very different people, yet we share a strong bond that has stood the test of time and distance.

My mom is a passionate person, and cares deeply about family, faith, and country. She loves to cook big meals and have a crowd around her table. One of her favorite things to do is to plan treats for the little ones in the group. She has a play area set up for the small fry, and over the years the grandchildren and nieces and nephews have all had their turn among the toys. They’ve had their special cakes and tea parties, and they know she keeps kid food on hand at all times. “Goodie bags” and little “unbirthday” presents have marked many a visit to her house.

She’s a great one for family photos, and is always on a mission to gather the group to get an updated shot for her wall. You can see the changes over the years…the babies who are now teens, or worse, the young adults who are now grey adults.

She and my dad were married more than 50 years, and though he left us in 2008, he is still in her thoughts, a close companion throughout the days. She remains married, even in her widowed state.

She’s a strong woman, healthy, energetic, and motivated. She always has more to do than she can do in a day. She is creative, and when she was younger, channeled creativity into sewing, cooking, yard work, painting, and mothering. She made my wedding dress, sewed special things for my children, made drapes for the house. She’s an artist who painted in oils, and a gardener who loves flowers. She is a legendary cook, and has created memorable feasts over the years. She’s famous for her yeast rolls, her fried rice, and her Italian Cream cake, a few of her many specialties.

She’s enthusiastic about her work, continuing the commitment to Christian missions that she shared with my dad. She’s a writer and publisher, a traveler and a speaker. She is tireless in her efforts to share her heart, and her faith in God.

She is a prolific author and an amazing correspondent. Computer savvy, she emails and Facebooks friends and co-workers across the country and around the world. No slouch, my mom. She often works late into the night keeping up with her commitments.

She has been a support throughout my life, listening, listening, listening. She has heard my sorrows and my joys, and has made soothing noises at the right moments, rejoiced in the good things, and resisted opportunities to throw out the occasional “I told you so,” even when it has been warranted. She is ever hopeful for me and mine.

My mom is generous in her caring, ferocious in her concern, and sympathetic to a fault. I rarely catch her in a down mood. She’s carried along by the tide of her hopes and plans, and by the memories: so many good memories through the years.

My mom has been fortunate in many ways. Though not a rich woman by monetary standards, she has had love and family and calling to fill her life. Though the family picture has changed through the years, and some dear ones are not in more recent photos, she finds joy in those around her. And she looks toward the future, to accomplishing her goals, finishing her mission, and watching the grandchildren, and great grandchildren, grow.

Happy Mother’s Day to my mom, Betty Burton Choate: my example, my encourager, my friend, a charming woman with a charmed life, and a full life. Long may she live it!

New and Improved

I’ve made a few changes to my routines this year. These are deliberate choices, mind you, things I am attempting to improve.

I’ve given up my Franklin-Covey planner, which I’ve kept for 20+ years, and transitioned to a digital calendar. THIS WAS NOT EASY! As a list maker, and someone who loves to record my to-dos, I don’t get quite the same satisfaction from digital planning as I did from my paper version. But I finally made myself do it. I finally faced the reality that I was duplicating my efforts, and continuing to lug around a physical planner every day, when I could list everything once in my phone calendar and be done with it. And wagging my phone around is not optional. I know I’m always going to have my phone along for the daily parade of adventures.

I’m wearing a pedometer. I tried this once before, a few years ago, but didn’t stick with it. I’m trying to be more conscious of how many steps I walk each day. This handy guide comes from http://walking.about.com/cs/measure/a/locke122004.htm

1) Under 5000 steps/day may be used as a “sedentary lifestyle index”

2) 5,000-7,499 steps/day is typical of daily activity excluding sports/exercise and might be considered “low active.”3) 7,500-9,999 likely includes some exercise or walking (and/or a job that requires more walking) and might be considered “somewhat active.”

4) 10,000 steps/day indicates the point that should be used to classify individuals as “active”.

5) Individuals who take more than 12,500 steps/day are likely to be classified as “highly active”.

It helps to get a more accurate picture of how much I’m moving on days I’m not working out. So far I’ve remembered to wear it more than not, and haven’t lost or washed it (yet).

I’m taking more nutritional supplements. I’ve been really good about taking a couple of specific supplements for years, but have been really bad about adding others that are beneficial. Mostly, I don’t want to choke down a lot of horse pills every day. Now I take flax seed oil in a capsule, Osteo Bi-Flex (my mom assures me this is a good one!); calcium (Rob warns me that my bones will be fragile one of these days), baby aspirin (thrown in as a precautionary measure), and I’ve added Vitamin D and coconut oil. I’m not on prescription medication, but surely I take enough pills every day to count for something?? Maybe I won’t have to add a lot more to my regimen.

Rob and I are trying to be more thoughtful about our phone use. No answering calls while we’re eating, or watching a movie at home, or whenever we determine that we are “off.” I’m so programmed to answer if I’m within earshot this has been really difficult for me. I really want to take control of the phone. But it pulls at me. What if someone needs me? Or has something exciting to tell me? What if, what if? Well, I’m trying. Most of my difficulty lies in the fact that I only get calls from family, at least on a regular basis. A couple of times a year my dentist’s office calls me to remind me of a cleaning, and about every six weeks I get a reminder call from the salon where I get my hair cut. That’s pretty much it. So you can imagine how difficult it is for me to miss out on a Riley update, or hearing from my son, or catching up with my mom. But as I said, I’m trying. I am slightly bigger than my iPhone, so being the one in control should be quite manageable. Most of the time. Those phones are demanding little things!

I am choosing contemplative writings or how-to guides for more of my reading. Oh, I still read my favorite blogs, and I take a peek at some other sites. But I’m trying to be more selective about what I give my time to when I can really read. When I was younger I loved novels, and although I still have several favorite authors, I find that fiction doesn’t hold my attention like it used to.

I’m continuing with the great clean out. Just when I think I’m done, I find some other pocket of stuff that needs a little sorting out. I think what’s really happening is that I’m ever more willing to let go of things that I’ve kept for a long time. And that feels good! I can’t deny that a new possession or two creeps in now and then. I’m impulsive, on occasion, and I’ve been known to be overcome with the need for a new kitchen gadget. But I’m better than I used to be. I was never a true shopaholic, but I’ll admit I’ve had my moments. I consider myself to be in recovery-mode now, trying to be less materialistic and more frugal and thoughtful about buying in general, and whether I possess things, or they posses me. That is sometimes that is a difficult distinction to make, I’m sorry to say.

Upward and onward!

Riley is two

Riley turns two today. We’ve already had this little joy in our lives for two years!

She’s been in the toddler stage for a while. She runs, she climbs, she’s a big girl. Tall for her age, she looks more like a three year old. But there are still some traces of babyhood, when she’s sleepy, or tired. She says a lot of words and phrases, but doesn’t quite pronounce all the consonants yet, so you have to do a little interpretive work to follow her conversation. Still, it’s obvious that she has the family gift of gab.

She’s a bit of a foodie, fascinated at her young age with life in the kitchen. She loves to explore in the pantry, and she knows where her favorite foods live in the fridge. And she likes to stir things.

She’s a modern child, she knows how to push buttons to get things…at least some things…that she wants. She watches babies and cartoon characters on You Tube. She likes to play little games on her parents’ Kindle Fire.

She knows the word “no.” She sometimes says, “No, Riley,” as if practicing on herself. She drops the “l” in Riley (one of those consonant things), but she gets the tone jussst right.

She rides a little trike, a “Dora the Explorer” trike that has lights, turn signals, and plays music. She has a few books. Just a few! The child has her own mini library, but I like that. Always a reader myself, I love to see that potential for children.

She has a bit of a temper. She’s explored the terrible twos, wandered in and out a bit already. But she’s a happy child most of the time, and is a cheerful little companion, singing in her car seat while out and about, chattering in her Riley-speak about whatever is on her mind at the moment.

She has nicknames…”Little,” or sometimes, “the Little,” and “Poo.” She knows them too. She hears them often enough, at least from me and Stephanie. I’m not sure if anyone else uses these. But they are names of affection and play. I am “Gram” to her, although I haven’t heard her say that yet. But she knows Rob’s name, “PB,” and she says it frequently, putting the emphasis on the “P,” “PeeeBe,” she says, calling him to come and see something, or identifying him in a photo.

This little girl has made a place in my heart, effortlessly climbing in and making herself at home. The child of my child is reminding me of the joys of discovery, the value of intangibles, and the strength of ties that bind. Happy birthday, Riley girl! Happy birthday, Little!

Next

Chasing rainbows in the Caribbean

Periodically, for various reasons, life needs a reset. We are in one of those times now, and have been for a while. We began our Alaska adventure in 2006, and through ups and downs, good and bad, it has been an adventure. But now we find ourselves ready for a new address, one that is drier, warmer, and has potential to be a long-term home for us. We started this process last year, but a slow housing market and our own indecision derailed us a bit. We’re ramping up to try again this spring.

Most people (I think) make the decision of where to live based on job, family, or some combination of likes and life needs that help to narrow the focus and direction. We did too, in the past. We moved for training and jobs, and we looked for opportunities in regions of the country that we wanted to explore. Family is important, but with family spread far and wide, from east to west and across time zones, it is difficult to use family, at this point, as a filter. We find ourselves without a lot of anchors. We certainly know what states and regions draw us, interest us, and there is temptation to re-visit the places we lived in the past that we enjoyed. But we also know that it is important to make a good decision, and that means taking time, doing our homework, and looking beyond the most obvious options.

To complicate the process, we still have a house to sell in Ketchikan, where the market in our price range is not robust. And we will likely continue to work there for the foreseeable future. We are networked, and known entities, which is important when you work like we do. We can search without the house being sold. And as we have an episodic work style, we can structure time to travel and investigate in our time off. The downside to not working is that we don’t get paid. There is no paid leave in our work structure. But the upside is that we can put together significant blocks of time for exploring our options.

There are all sorts of online tools to help you. There are lists for every type of filter you can think of…low tax rate, health care facilities, climate, population, amenities, recreation, mountains, beach, schools, organizations…choose your priorities and you can find a list of places that will accommodate your must-haves and your wish-fors. One of these is Find Your Spot. There are lists from any number of periodicals and organizations. You can also find a plethora of information on any community online by going to resources like the local Chamber of Commerce page or the website for specific cities. Information is not the problem. Filtering it appropriately is the difficulty.

Aside from doing online research, another resource we have is a Class C RV, which is large enough that we can live in it for extended periods of time without going crazy or coming to blows. Our plan is to use it to do some in-depth exploration of various regions of interest, to use it as our mobile hub. We tried this once before, and it was working quite nicely, when we sidetracked ourselves by accepting a job offer. This time, we’ve agreed: we’re not looking for full-time work, and we are choosing the location we want. We’ll make jobs work around our choice.

Dinner on board: the wanderers

So, with all that said, I’d be interested in hearing ideas from anyone reading this post. We like the west, the not-too-cold mountain west, the southeast, and the mid-Atlantic. We like small to medium size communities…no big cities for us, although it is desirable to have a city within a reasonable driving distance for airports, shopping, etc. We like ocean, mountains, and lakes, but realistically, would probably not choose to pay for an ocean front view. This choice needs to be sustainable in every way. So ultimately, we are looking for a place that offers a variety of amenities, a cost of living that is not extreme, and a place that feels like home. Any ideas out there? We’re open to suggestion!

My own little lake

Rain again this past weekend. When I say it rained, I don’t mean we had a shower. No, we had a deluge. AGAIN. For all those people in Texas who need rain…believe me, I would send you days of the stuff if I could.
 
Meanwhile, back at the ranch, I have a small lake in my basement. This isn’t a new thing. The house was built in 1920 and has been remodeled over the years, so this problem has been addressed before, by others. But never fixed, apparently. When we have heavy rain, we get seeping ground water that comes up through fine cracks in the concrete floor. Not really a problem, doesn’t seem to do any harm. But I’m tired of sweeping out the lake on a regular basis, and I keep wondering what would happen if we had a potential buyer checking us out on a day that the basement floor is liquid. Not an easy thing, I’m thinking, to reassure someone that the water only rises to a certain point and then recedes.
 
Saturday we had a contractor come over to give us ideas about effective treatment. Install a sump pump, redirect one of the downspouts behind the house, put a drain in the basement floor with a collection box…oh, all can be done for the small sum of about $2,000. And it is a small sum, as these types of repairs go. But you never know WHAT you may run into when you begin these things, so we are to understand that $2,000 is the least we’re looking at. Could be higher. Much higher.
 
I’m thinking these days of how I can turn anything and everything to income. Maybe I can write about the perils of owning a house that’s almost 100 years old. Maybe I can give advice to other basement/lake owners. Maybe I can become an expert on sump pumps. I don’t know. All I know is that I’m coming to a cliff in a few months, one that I’m willingly walking toward, and I’m jumping off without reliable income. AND I have this little basement issue. What to do, what to do!
 
Fortunately Rob will pay for the basement. In our universe, he usually covers these types of things. The bigger bills don’t typically come my way. But it does make me think a bit.
 
Really, I expect to be ok. I’m having fun learning about portable and alternative income sources. I’ve already committed to relief work at the hospital, and I’m thinking about entrepreneurial options, everything from baking to editing to whatever else I stumble on. I’m excited to try my wings, and if I grow them on the way down, as the saying goes, that just makes it all the more fun.
 
So this week, I’m going to become an expert on basement drainage. I think the contractor’s coming over tomorrow to get started, and if you see a post or two about the intricacies of pipes, collection boxes and drains, you’ll know why. At least my lake should soon be gone.