Fireflies

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Keith and I were in North Carolina for our anniversary the first part of July. We celebrated 8 years of wedded bliss. Well, mostly bliss. But that is for another day. Anyway, I saw fireflies for the first time there. My gosh what a magical treat that was!

Keith and I would wait until twilight and then stand in awe watching these little bugs sparkle around the grass and in the trees. It was like the stars came down to earth just to delight us. It didn’t last long, and when it was over, I wanted more.

I grew up in Colorado where I never saw them. It seems like those insects like thick foliage and humidity. It’s pretty dry here in Colorado, so instead of delightful fireflies, we have Miller moths. Not an equal comparison.

I have been thinking about the fireflies now that we’re back home and I wish I could see them again. That feeling of magic and wonderment that I had as a kid has been lost to me for a long time. I remember being in such a huge hurry to grow up that I’m not sure that I appreciated things. Or maybe I did but didn’t have the language to express it. I’m not sure. For me, growing up was something you just had to get through. As an adult, I have been so caught up with keeping my head above water, and living, I have overlooked so much. I haven’t been noticing the joy that the world has to share.

But seeing things through a different lens has made a difference for me. I am lucky to be where I am at this moment and know it could all be gone tomorrow. I know how quickly life can change.

A couple of years ago Keith and I started a gratitude practice. We would remember one thing we were grateful for and talk about it at dinner. It was a simple way for us to be reminded to slow down and see the world differently. Keith would often point out how pretty the sky was or the contours of the rocks in a beautiful landscape. It forced us to slow down and notice things. I would be grateful for the more pragmatic things of the day, ice cubes for my water, or a cool breeze on a hot day. Both directions fed our gratitude.

As Keith and I get older, we are more aware of our mortality. Time really does fly by as you get older. I mean really, wasn’t it just New Years? And as I think about that, spending time with those bright little fireflies was time well spent. Maybe those few minutes spent with the fireflies was a reminder for us of the transient time we spend here. A beautiful reminder to notice the world around me and to be grateful for them.

Or maybe it was just a delightful treat. I’ll take it either way.

 

 

Post script to No One Rides for Free

My sister read my last blog post featuring my bike story. I couldn’t tell if she was delighted or annoyed. No matter. What she said to me after she read the tale was the important part.

My grandma upon hearing the tragedy replaced her bike. Grandma kept it safe and away from the riff-raff at our place by holding it for my sister to enjoy when she visited her house. I think had I been in the same position I would have likely done the same thing.

Whew. I’m relieved to know that my sister’s bike was replaced. I didn’t know that until now.

However, two weeks after she got the new bike, she left it in the driveway for a moment and my grandpa Carl ran over it with his truck.

Sigh…

Giggle…

Sigh.

Are we there yet?

winding road photography
Photo by Johannes Plenio on Pexels.com

When I was a kid, we were broke. My dad departed from our family when I was 6 and money was always tight. Child support was more of a suggestion than a requirement. My mom really knew how to stretch a dollar. Mom had five hungry children to feed and didn’t have many resources to help with that. A family vacation was something other families did, not ours. Our summer vacation consisted of a trip to grandma’s house. As I have said before my mom had a mean streak, but she was a pussycat next to grandma. Grandma lived 20 miles away, and I can guarantee it was a far cry from Disneyland.

So you can imagine our surprise the summer I was 7 or 8 and Mom announced that we were going to take a vacation. This had never happened before. We didn’t have much notice. I have to say we didn’t get much notice about things happening in our lives as kids. That might explain why I hate surprises as an adult. We found out and were gone a few days after. I imagine we pestered her constantly those few days beforehand about every detail of this grand adventure. All I knew was mom promised that it was going to be fun. I have to confess I don’t remember a lot of the details of that trip. I can’t remember how long we were gone or what exactly what we did. What I do remember is that we went in our Ford Falcon and the car was full. It had bucket seats, and since I was the youngest kid, I sat between the front seats on the hump. Seat belts were not a thing back then. You just learned to hold on tight around corners. My mom scraped and scrimped during that vacation so we could do some touristy stuff. We swam in the natural hot springs in Durango and rode the million-dollar railroad train near Silverton. We ate lots of candy and drank soda in the car. It was a blast. It felt like we were like every other family. My mom was relaxed, and it was one of the few times I felt like she liked being with us. It’s one of the best memories I have of my childhood.

Picture this. We were on the way home, and it was one of the last days of the trip. Maybe it was all the candy we had consumed. Maybe to was the weird roadside food. Perhaps it was just a result of too much sun for my red-headed complexion. Or maybe it just my anxiety. Whatever it was, I didn’t feel well. Mom’s cure-all for nausea was 7-up. You know that experiment where you add Mentos candies into a coke bottle? How it fizzes up and just blows up? That is what I felt like when I drank that 7-up. I was a kid who threw up a lot, so when I said I was not feeling good, mom knew to go into action.

My brother Robert was sitting next to me, and he didn’t move out of the way. Either he was being a jerk (a high probability) or didn’t move fast enough to get out of the way when I got the first gag. In my panic, I grabbed the first thing I could find to contain my eruption, his brand new vacation bucket hat. I’m pretty sure he got it on the trip. Let’s just say, it wasn’t pretty and my brother was pissed. My mom gets to the side of the road, and we have to vacate the car while I heave on the side of the road. I’m relegated to the backseat and instructed to lean my head out of the window if the need arises. Let me say. I don’t think the paint job was ever quite the same once we got home. My mom was kind to me that day. She didn’t yell or scold. She held her tongue. Maybe for another mom, this would have been something expected, but for me this was compassion. Often times I remember my mom being angry with us. But I think she was furious at life, and we got the brunt of it. She was doing the best she could do in the circumstances she had. You can’t give what you don’t have.

I get to choose how I frame my life. I am tired of being angry and resentful. I want to see things in a different light. She tried hard to be a good mom that trip, and I am grateful for that. She wasn’t always capable of doing that. My childhood memories are a mixed bag. They are all not all 100% good nor are they 100% bad. Nothing is black and white. As I type this story, I am thinking about the family vacations that I have arranged. The times my children had mixed candy and soda and recently at Lake Powell when it was soda and tequila, all with the same breathtaking results I had all those years ago. I am so grateful for those memories. Not the eruptions but for the memories I have. I hope that one day my children can extend me the same grace I am trying to extend to my mother. I was far from the perfect parent. I am working to be better all of the time. It’s a job that doesn’t end once they are out of the house and more than worth every bit of the effort. Last night my stepson Colin asked about going on a family vacation with us next summer.

It was a delightful surprise. Perhaps grace rubs off.

But the Mentos and soda are staying home.

Nobody Rides for Free

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I wrote this story a while back. It is my version of a Lifetime channel docudrama. While some detail and events are exaggerated, perhaps even made up, the bones are true, and the end result was real.


This is for you Penni.

I am not sure how things ever got this bad. Our relationship had always been rocky; with times when we were very close and other times when it seemed that all we could do was plot inventive ways to hurt each other. I looked down at the papers in my hand that my soon-to-be-ex-husband had just handed to me. They were so neatly typed, perfect except for the lower case e that was slightly higher than it should have been. It was during one of my more creative plots that my sister’s typewriter developed this small defect. It was bad enough that my life was falling apart, but did my sister have to type the petition for divorce papers I was just handed? When I exhaled, a big drop of blood dropped on the documents, my nose had started to bleed.


I remember being seven years old. I was raised on B-rated horror movies and thought that blood and ketchup were one and the same. My dad, my sister Penni and I were in the hospital’s emergency room, and I could taste the antiseptic smells on my tongue. I heard the clots being suctioned out of my broken nose before I could actually see them running down the clear flexible tube. Both Penni and I watched their slow progress until they were sucked out of sight. The ugliness of the clots was in sharp contrast to the party dress my sister was still wearing. The procedure was painful, and she seemed to delight in my discomfort.


My sister turned thirteen that day. The best thing she got that year was her new bike. It was a Schwinn with three speeds, a genuine white leather saddle seat and the most beautiful grass green paint job that I had ever seen. It was the only bike in the family that had handbrakes. Best of all, it was a girl’s bike. A virtual guarantee that my brothers would never lay a hand on it. This was the bike that my sister had obsessed over. She had talked about it for months before her birthday.


It was her first boy-girl party, and she made sure that I knew that I was not invited. She didn’t want me anywhere near her or her friends that day. She insisted that my father find somewhere else for me to be, anywhere except for her party. So when my father wheeled her new bike out of the house, I tagged behind like the tattered piece of wrapping paper that was stuck to the wheel. I pulled our old Radio Flyer wagon over to the bike and sat down in it. My brothers never put it away in the garage, so there was a thin coating of dusty orange rust on the bottom. I didn’t care. I just wanted to sit as close as possible to that bike.


“I hate her.” I thought “she gets everything.


The bike seemed to shimmer in the afternoon sun. I wanted it. I didn’t want the old hand me down bike with the black electrical tape wound around the seat. I could hear the music from the party inside. They were playing one of my sister’s favorite records. “Secret agent man, secret agent man,” a voice echoed from the house. I could hear my sisters laughter. I stood up and threw my leg over and sat on the seat of the bike. My legs, not long enough to reach the pedal, dangled over them. My weight was against the grooved handgrips and the ridges pressed against my palms. The silver and green streamers that erupted from the ends of the handlebars shivered with the slightest movement of the bike. Perched on the edge of the seat I watched the house. I hoped that my sister had not developed x-ray vision within the last ten minutes and knew what I was doing more than just sitting innocently in the backyard.
I looked up and down our street and wondered how long it would take me to ride to the top of the hill.


“I could do it,”I said to myself. I slid forward on the seat to extend my feet to the pedals. I stood and balanced. “I could do it, and she would never even know,” I said again, this time with conviction.


My tongue darted out and slid across my upper lip. It was salty from the blazing sun and sweet from the black cherry Kool-aid mustache I wore. Before I really thought it out, my foot hit the kickstand and I was across the lawn. I had to stand to pedal. I felt the power behind each push. I rode up the sidewalk, and I could feel my heart starting to pump harder. The streamers snapped in tune with the music I had just left. The bike was so smooth, so beautiful and so perfect. I reached the crest of the hill and turned the corner as flawlessly as my grandmother could dosey-do on a square dance floor. I was flying. I hardly felt the cracks on the sidewalks. The tires just made a whooshy sound on the concrete. Another perfect dosey-do corner and I was headed down the hill with a dumb grin on my face. I felt free. It was the greatest feeling I had ever had. I was going to get away with it.


I started down the hill standing on the pedals. I leaned over the handlebars and pumped energetically. I could feel the heat building up in my thighs. My braids were slapping against my back. I was halfway down when I realized I was going too fast and I should slow down. I pushed back on the pedals. There was no resistance. I pushed back again harder and again nothing but the pleasant clack clack clack sound of the gears and the escalating whoosh of the tires. Then I remembered…handbrakes. I didn’t know how to stop with handbrakes.


The end of the sidewalk was approaching rapidly. The handlebars were suddenly slick from the sweat on my hands. In what seemed like a heartbeat I was at the end of the walk. I looked down and saw the tire go over the curb from what seemed like a great height. I got that funny feeling in my stomach that you get when you are falling asleep, and you suddenly jerk yourself awake. I heard the screech of metal against metal as the rim crunched against the rain grate. My hands slipped off and flew out in front of me. I really was flying.


My hand hit the asphalt first, the hot stickiness of the tar doing nothing to stop my forward progress. The pain was so bad that I didn’t feel the rest of my body come in contact with the street. I saw sparks. In time I managed to roll over and look at what had been my sister’s perfect bike. The front tire was slowly, and the forks were bent at a strange angle. The green paint was scraped away, and the pure white saddle seat was smudged dusty orange. I could hear faint refrains of Happy Birthday coming from our house around the corner.


Eventually, I picked up the bike from the road and started to walk home. I was scraped everywhere, my knees, my arms, my elbows and my nose was gushing blood, and I was crying hard. I had ruined my sister’s prized possession. As I walked I knew two things for sure, one day my sister would get even with me, and blood sure didn’t taste like ketchup.

 

I wanna go fast

2012-mustang-gt-drifting-smoking-tires.jpgKeith and I are on a flight home from North Carolina as I write this post. It’s been a tiring few days, and I couldn’t be happier or more grateful for my tiredness. We have just finished our first boots-on-the-ground Sparkjoy Foundation event, Racing For Warriors. We partnered with our dear friend Cheryl Herrick, the head of Pony Tail Racing. It was an event focused on veterans. There were 60 participants, veterans and caretakers, 6 racecars, and a bunch of volunteers.

Racing for Warriors is Cheryl’s brainchild. She is from a military family, and she wanted to simply say thanks to our veterans. It started out as a simple ride for a vet and turned out to be so much more than that. It took this man out of his head for a minute, well more like 52 seconds, Cheryl drives pretty fast, and let him feel a joy he had not felt for some time. What she didn’t know when she drove that first circuit was how much this event would affect not only the vets but all of the people who participated in it.

Each participant took their turn, put a helmet on, got belted securely into a car with a highly skilled racer and off they went around the track. The first trip around the course was what Cheryl referred to as slow speed. I can tell you from where I was standing it didn’t look slow to me. The drivers wanted to make sure that every rider was comfortable, felt safe and still had fun. The second trip around was when the drivers got a little more serious. The engines revved, the tires squealed, and all I could hear as the cars shot by was the laughter of the participants. More often then not the riders would flash thumbs up and be wearing a huge grin that the helmets couldn’t hide. The cars ranged from a white Porsche to Cheryl’s golden Chevy Nova, muscle-bound and fast as lightning. I saw quickly that looks were deceiving. Don’t make the mistake of judging the book from the cover. There was a little red Miata that looked pedestrian and was as fast as the wind.

Many veterans suffer from trauma. PTSD, physical disabilities, and loneliness is a common thread that weaves these people together. When people needed it, I shuttled people between the track and the bathroom in a golf cart. I was the slow speed part of the event. We had time to chat. Person after person told me a tiny piece of their stories. One gentleman sat in my cart and said to me that he sometimes drives down the center of a street if trees are overhanging the road. He said he always drives too fast on these roads.

What? Why?

Because during his tour, grenades were sometimes hung in the high branches of overhanging trees and if you drove too slow maybe a live grande could get dropped from the branches above into your vehicle as quickly as a pinecone gets dumped onto a jeep on a mountain road. As he described his memory, I thought of Victoria Avenue in Riverside, one of my favorite streets. It has sections of soaring palm trees, orange groves and lots of shady trees. I go out of my way to drive down that road. It gives me joy to see the light and shadows dance across my windshield. It feels so hometown American to me. I realized this peace I have on that road has been forever lost to this man that sat in my golf cart.

I heard story after story in the same vein.

PTSD is an insidious problem. We speak about it, many acknowledge it, but not everyone understands or can move through it. This is how someone once explained it to me. Think if it like this. Imagine a gazelle hanging out on the plains of Africa. She’s just chewing some grass looking around alert but calm. Then suddenly a lion leaps out of the bush and starts running after her. The gazelle takes off full speed ahead, everything is about getting away and staying alive. The adrenaline is flowing, and everything in the gazelle’s body is working together to get her out of harm’s way. It works, and she escapes. She gets herself safe, and her system calms down. The trauma of the attack is dispersed. While the memory is loaded into her brain, her body doesn’t keep the fear.

We as humans can do the same thing. The problem we have is that sometimes we don’t close the process. We get activated and scared, but we don’t allow our systems to calm down like our friend the gazelle. It’s this lack of completing the cycle that causes us traumas and difficulties. We get stuck in the fear. The fear you have can be held in your body. It can cause physical illnesses. Your brain doesn’t know that the trauma happened years ago. It acts like it happened recently. It has not had the chance to go through the cycle like our friend the gazelle. The trauma is a current event to our brain and replays over and over.

These rides gave people a momentary break. I have a term for it now. Recreation therapy. I might have seen some initial hesitation from a few, but also the adrenaline rush, the joy, and the happiness. It was a remarkable day. These people came together and for a few hours and became a community. They started out as groups of individuals, each group separated. As the day wore on it became harder and harder to visually separate the groups as they meshed together. They cheered each other on, encouraged and laughed together.

At the end of the day, I walked around to chat with the drivers. One of them told me that this was not just about the vets. This event made him feel good. It gave him great joy to have these people in his car and share this experience with them. He connected with them on a very human level.

It was a beautiful thing, and I want more of it.

I’ll keep you posted.

 

 

You’ve come a long way baby

photo of a boy near leaves
Photo by Min An on Pexels.com

When I was a little kid I was very shy. You know that kid that hides behind all the adult’s legs and peeks around afraid to get too close?  Yep, that was me. I think my mom referred to me as a late bloomer. When the time came, I was not excited in the least to go to school. I would actually have to talk to people there. Ugh. As the summer wore on and September loomed closer my anxiety grew.  I am the last of five kids and four of those siblings attended the very same, very small Catholic school. Everyone knew everyone. You would think that would give me comfort. Except my brothers were (and I’m trying to be kind here), rambunctious boys. Saying that you knew our family may not have been a compliment.  Our family had a certain reputation at school.

So day one rolls around, I can recall the dread that wedged in the pit of my stomach as vividly as I can the plaid of my uniform skirt. I had a nun for a teacher that year. In my memory, all of the nuns looked the same so I can’t really remember her name. In my head, I have always just called her Sister Mary Penguin. This being a very traditional school in the 60’s, we were seated alphabetically. Was there any other option? My last name started with A, so I was in the first row and the first seat. Ok, ok. I could do this. I was a master of not being noticed so this prominent seat was a challenging position. But with my ninja-master-level skill of melting into the background, all would be fine. Then the bell rang and school started and that theory went out the window.

Sister Mary P introduces herself, she talks about the day and what it will be like and she is really nice. Oh, and they have books there. Books that I can take home and read! Whew. Maybe this whole school thing isn’t going to be so bad after all. Then it happened.

Sister asked us to introduce ourselves. Stand up and say our name IN FRONT OF EVERYONE. OMG. This was not good. I had to speak in front of these strangers. I’m in the pole position. I’m first. I stand up on shaking legs and mumble my name. The nun, in what I am sure was an attempt to engage with me, says that I have a long last name and asked if I knew how to spell it. Seriously?  Of course, I did. It’s eleven letters long and I’m proud of myself for knowing so and I start to spell. A—–R—–C—H– – – – Mid letter I can’t take it, I can feel all those eyes just staring at me. It’s super hot in the room. My uniform is scratchy and I think I have to pee. The anxiety gets the better of me, and I throw up. Not the little ick it’s just in my mouth kind, but I mean like a bucket full of vomit. Go big or go home has always been my motto.

The room went still. No one said anything. Time was frozen. The kids in that classroom were the same kids that I spent the next eight years with. My worst nightmare had just come true. Sister finally broke the silence and grabbed the trash can but it was too late. The janitor had to come and put sawdust on the floor, the windows were opened and the class was pretty much disrupted. Welcome to First grade, Mari.

Somehow, I survived that year. I put one foot in front of the other and made it through. Sister Mary P was kind and somehow I didn’t get a cruel nickname over the incident. I was lucky that time. I had plenty of other times when I didn’t skate by so easily, but that’s for another post.

My stepdad got remarried last year in the church that was next to the school. The morning of the wedding Keith and I got there a little early and as we sat in the parking lot, waiting to go into the church to celebrate the day, the memory of that first day of school flooded back to me. I recalled the shame, the humiliation, the dread, and realized that I have come such a long way. It would be so easy for me to hold onto the negative part of this memory and to dwell in the pain. For me though, I want to start looking at these parts of my life as gifts. I am grateful for those experiences. Let me make this clear I wasn’t grateful at the time, but I am trying to look back and see the lessons I was being taught. I have come to believe that all of the crap we go through in life are assignments from the universe. I have the opportunity to learn something every day. It’s when I fall down and fail spectacularly I learn that I can get up that I learn how strong I really am.

Just don’t ask me to spell my maiden name.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Brunch is overrated

Keith and I have been married for 8 years now. We have children from both of our previous marriages. I have a son and a daughter, and he has 3 boys.  Together we have one four-legged furbaby,  Zoey. We all have had challenges blending these two families together. My kids were older and more independent. His oldest boy was not even in High School at the time. When I told a friend about our engagement, she asked me in surprise what I was thinking? I was almost done with raising kids why would I want to start over again? Good question with just one answer. I loved Keith. His boys were a part of him, so I was willing to take that chance. He was a package deal.

I saw Keith’s smile on these boys faces. I saw how his mannerisms would pop up in them. They shared a sense of humor, and it would show up in the most unexpected times. Ugh, the fortune cookie joke they still tell…  And I saw the look my husband had in his eyes when he looked at them. Colin, the oldest, is a quiet, unassuming kid with a daredevil streak that scares me and delights me. He is the one who would lead the family down a black diamond ski run without looking back. I can’t tell you how often I brought up the rear of that train, my knees knocking the whole time, and how much fun it was at the exact same time. Nathan has his father’s brains and curiosity.  He is the one that can figure things out without much trouble. He is creative and smart. Aidan is the one with a huge heart and big feelings.

In my wedding vows, I promised that I would accept these kids as my own, always try to see through their eyes, and to love them the best I could. We have had a difficult time of it. I have read books on parenting, advice on being a stepmom, and many articles on the web trying to figure this out. We have a sort of uneasy truce between us. At least that’s what it feels like to me. I had always hoped that it would get better as we got older but I am not sure where that lies. There are days I have hope and days that I don’t.

I own my part of the dysfunction. I didn’t understand how these boys worked. I have a son myself, but he was different than these stepchildren. He was not as boisterous or active as these ones were. I couldn’t figure out what they were feeling, and often I felt like I was the uninvited guest to the party and they just wanted me to go home. I felt rejected and it was easier to take a step back.

I was an imperfect mother. I was often impatient, and when I got mad — I got mad. I will not list all of my flaws, I’ll just say it would be a pretty long list. I didn’t get the kid raising manual when I got the kids, so I was playing everything by ear.

But I have tried. I spent three years cooking double dinner when Nathan was a vegetarian, and we were not. I have baked amazing birthday cakes (I don’t mind giving myself a little credit here) and spent inordinate amounts of time figuring out the best Christmas gifts I could come up with. I taught them how to do their own laundry. I’m pretty sure they will thank me later on. We have had really astounding family vacations. I went to culinary school because of this crazy idea that food is one way to show people you love them when it’s too hard to do it any other way. I have taken them from bread-and-cheese to food explorers.

I feel like there is hope. One Christmas they got me everything you would need to make movie popcorn. Ok, I have an obsession with popcorn. I love it like a fat kid likes cake. They did all of the research and found the right orange oil, the fake butter, and the popcorn popper that gives the corn just the right amount of fluff. OMG! I was blown away by their thoughtfulness. Last year Colin gave me a beautiful photograph he’d taken and thanked me for all of the encouragement I had given him.

There is still a bunch of awkwardness around us. It’s hard navigating the rough waters of any relationship. If the boat doesn’t get rocked too much, we’re pretty good. At least we’re trying.

As I was sitting on my porch typing up this post, I got Happy Mother’s Day messages. It didn’t come with a mimosa, or an envelope.  And It was every bit as good.

What do you know?