Friday, December 26, 2014

Sunshine the Archangel starring Jennifer Lawrence

As the year wraps up, it seems a good time for introspection and evaluating self. So I turned to the online quizzes people share on Facebook to really get a good sense of who I am...

It all started when my friend shared a link to see what famous poem was written for you. I got 'There is Another Sky' by Emily Dickinson.  "There is another sky, Ever serene and fair, And there is another sunshine, Though it be darkness there..." This poem did seem to be written for me! And I've always felt Emily and I are soul friends.

So I took another quiz. Which superhero should you hook up with? At this point I wasn't yet on my journey of self reflection, but just wanting to know the answers to life's important questions. So which superhero should I hook up with? Thor. Of course. Made perfect sense to me. In fact, if it had suggested any other hero I might have doubted the scientific validity of those online 10 question tests. But Thor. Obviously.

Took a few other "control" quizzes. Confirmed my heart is in California, my biggest flaw is that I'm too selfless, I should live in San Francisco, three words to describe me are sharp, confident and loyal, "A teacher to all" should be written on my gravestone, my true personality is that of a born leader, if I were a Doctor Who villain it would be a weeping angel, and the word that sums me up is lively. You add all that to the Thor and Emily answers, and clearly these quizzes are powerful tools of revelation.

Next step was to analyze my soul. I have a brand new, green colored soul of a beagle. And where has my soul been before? Egyptian royalty in a past life. Almost as obvious as Thor really. Egyptian royalty. Everything is starting to make sense... PTA president was just a stepping stone on my way back to where I truly belong... Oh, and in case you are wondering where my soul might go next, found out I should be reincarnated as the Hallelujah Emoji! Hallelujah!

And it wasn't just abstract things I learned. The time I have left on earth is 59 years and 4 months. My 60's nickname is Sunshine, and Jennifer Lawrence will play me in a movie about my life. Awesome!

And then I stumbled upon the question. Which type of Angel are you? This could get to the very heart of my purpose. The question I've been asking my whole life: which type of Angel am I really? Answer: "You're an Archangel! You are the badass angel of the heavens, protecting earth and her people." 

Badass angel of the heavens. Watch out world. I'm on a mission now. One day you will be able to watch the whole story in "Sunshine the Archangel" starring Jennifer Lawrence. Until then, you can keep up with my random progress here...

Happy New Year Friends! Hoping we all find our purpose in 2015... 


Sunday, December 14, 2014

My Grandmother Lived

Of all the things my mom did for me growing up, the one I'm the most thankful for is when she married us into a large, crazy family on Feb 6th, 1981. I was 7 years old and suddenly I had a step-father and new uncles, aunts, cousins, and grandparents. All of whom welcomed my sister and me and always treated us like family. Even saying "treated us like family" seems wrong. They didn't treat us like family, we were family. We are family.

And in the center of that family was my Grandmother, Nellie Austin. She died yesterday Dec. 13, 2014. And so this post is for her. And for my step-father and his 5 brothers and sisters who loved her. And for my sister and cousins who shared her with me.

Grandma Nellie was not what you think of as a traditional grandma. She didn't sew or bake cookies. She didn't offer sage advice. She didn't solve problems. Truth be told, she sometimes caused problems. She was loud. She was confrontational. And she was real. And I hope to one day grow up to be just like her.

Grandma Nellie lived. She was not afraid of life. If there was music playing, she was on the dance floor. You always knew she was in the room. As a child, that was sometimes embarrassing. But as an adult, I find it admirable. She lived out loud. She did not sit in a corner worrying about what others thought or how she should act. She jumped up and danced.

Grandma Nellie confronted society's norms. She loved and married James Austin, a black man, long before it was socially acceptable. She wore pants. She used curse words. She partied. And you knew what she thought of you. She lived by her own standards. And she loved her family. Of that, there was never any doubt.

Grandma Nellie was authentic. What you saw is what you got. And what I saw was a fierce, strong woman. A woman who loved without discrimination. A woman who danced. A woman who lived.

Nellie Lee Austin (Aug 28, 1936- Dec 13, 2014) Rest in Peace Grandma.

Grandma Nellie with her 6 kids

Grandma Nellie dancing with my husband at our wedding

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

For my Ferguson Cousins

I intentionally do not post about politics, religion  or other generally controversial topics online. In fact, I try to stick to amusing stories, funny pictures and optimistic statements. In part because I own a small business and don't want to offend any potential customer, but in a larger part because I've always tried to follow the advice of Saint Francis of Assisi, "Preach the Gospel at all times, and when necessary, use words."

Now the "gospel" in that advice has changed over time to mean "values" for me. But even though my concept of what I want to "preach" has changed, the core message of living what you believe through your actions has remained a guiding principle. I sincerely hope I have made enough intentional choices to reflect to those who know me that I value tolerance and diversity. But today, that doesn't seem to be enough. It seems necessary to use words.

In response to the decision to not indict, Stephanie Jordan, a friend I admire a great deal, posted on Facebook, "Thank you for the invitation to keep the conversation going. Let's DO this then." And she moderated a very thoughtful discussion amongst her friends. What struck me is that I had nothing to say to add to the conversation. Those who know me will be able to tell you that it is a RARE occasion when I have nothing to say.

And as I thought about it more, I realized I had no vocabulary at the ready to join the conversation. I have truths I hold dear.  I have values that guide my actions. I know how to act respectfully.  I know how to seek out opportunities to experience and learn from genuine diversity. I know how to support my friends. I know how to not belittle or bully someone for their beliefs, or for any part of who they are. What I don't know how to do is to easily continue a genuine discussion about race problems in our country. But it is time to learn. It has become necessary to use words.

It occurs to me that perhaps one reason public discourse has become so polarizing, so extreme, is because good intentioned, moderate people stay out of the discussions. We believe our actions speak for themselves. Since we do not feel racist, we don't feel the need to enter into discussions of race. We like to believe we can change the world through good example and right actions. And I'm not saying that we can't, but maybe sometimes that example has to include naming things. Maybe the right action is to make it clear through words, that we too see the problems. They are not just the rantings of the inflamed. They are also truths that the middle see.

And so here are some necessary words I'd like on my record: I believe that we have overt and covert racism in this country and in our systems. I believe that white privilege exists for all white people whether we feel it or not. I believe that our criminal justice system is broken. I believe that good people join law enforcement. But I also believe that law enforcement officers need better training and a systemic culture shift.

And in trying to find my vocabulary to continue the conversation, I remembered another value of mine: I know that we are one big global family. Since I value that, I've been volunteering with AJ Jacobs and his Global Family Reunion (GFR) project to help people celebrate our one big family. And I'm realizing now that working on the GFR can help me continue the race conversation through a lens I've already been holding up...

We are all connected. Literally. Through blood and/or marriage the Global Family Reunion Project is connecting up the world. There is only one human race. This is not a belief; it is a fact. Now we have to decide how to act like a family. We are all cousins. We may not like all of our cousins. But shouldn't we have some responsibility to our family none the less? The age of tribalism is over.  It no longer needs to be us versus them. It need only be us. But what does that mean? How does that conversation go? How do we hold up our cousins in Ferguson? I honestly don't know yet. But I'd like to thank my friend for the invitation to keep the conversation going. Let's DO this then...

Friday, September 26, 2014

Proud to be from Whitehall: Ohio's Most Dangerous City

So my hometown of Whitehall, Ohio was recently ranked #1 on a list of Ohio's Most Dangerous Cities. I'm not sure if it was that dangerous when I grew up there or not. I do know that my mom still lives there, and when I visit, things seem about the same to me. So maybe it was. But let me share my thoughts on growing up there...

This is not going to be an "I made it out of there" story.
I do not think I am where I am today despite growing up in Whitehall, OH.
I think I am who I am today because I grew up in Whitehall, OH.

I learned that the quality of your house or apartment has nothing to do with your character. I loved growing up in a duplex rental community. Loved my friends being so close we could play 10 houses down until dark because my parents could always reach me by yelling loudly out the door. Most of the adults I knew had not attended college. Some of my friends were raised by single parents. Some by grandparents. Many (including me) with a step-parent. But from what I saw, most of the adults worked hard and made the best lives they could for their families whatever their structure.

I developed a sense of independence that has served me well my whole life. My friends and I walked all over the neighborhood. We walked to school, and we walked through the Beer Dock on the way home for candy. In junior high, I would take a bus with my friends to the mall and other places. I know I was able to do some of that because 30 years ago it was a safer, simpler time. However the ease of getting around town, and the independence that fostered, was enabled by the lower-income nature of Whitehall. We had public transportation for one thing. And we had a mixed-use urban community. Unlike my friends who lived in more affluent suburbs of Columbus. Those friends had nothing but nice houses on large lots near them. There were no stores to walk to and no bus to take anywhere.
I had fantastic teachers who instilled in me a love of learning.  Our schools may not have been the best equipped, but we had some really great teachers. After taking Dr. Bradshaw's History Seminar, I was honestly over-prepared for college the first year! And I learned first hand that a great education is not about money. It is about great teachers.

I experienced the power of community.  I knew my neighbors. I knew my friends' parents. I felt supported and loved at Eastview United Methodist Church. I was part of the Ram Band with all the Ram Pride that came with it. I took class trips to DC, NYC and Chicago. I performed in plays and sang in choirs. And I honestly never felt limited by resources. Our community found ways. Our parents found ways.

Since growing up and moving away, I have traveled the world with little fear and with confidence in my ability to use public transportation. Naive or not, I do not let worry about potential crime stop me from living my life to the fullest.  I know that bad things can happen anywhere. But I also know that good things can happen anywhere.

Now I'm not saying that raising children in a lower income area is the right place to raise them. But I am saying, that it is not the wrong place. Among the friends I grew up with, there are now teachers, and lawyers, and business executives, and Phds, and great parents, and even greater human beings. I can think of way more success stories off the top of my head than I can of failures.

So yes, I am proud of where I came from and proud of the lessons I learned there. They have served me well. So thank you Whitehall, Ohio.

Monday, September 22, 2014

10 books that changed me

My friend Lynsie posted on Facebook: “I was tagged by Mario to list ten books I care about. I included some epic poems and essays, cause I'm grown, and I do what I want. I tag Jane, Brittany, and Angel to tell me ten books that changed you.”

I’m grown too, so I also choose poems and collections of essays. And one play. And a textbook. And a business book. And a humor/religion book. Cause I’m really rebellious like that.  And when I started thinking about books that have changed me, it brought so much to mind that I decided to answer here on this blog where I have more room. Told you- rebellious.

1.     Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls
This book is the earliest novel I have clear memory of reading and loving. And so I honor it for starting a life long love of books.

There are only two other novels on this list of 10. But that’s not because I don’t love reading novels. I do. And I have loved too many to really pick favorites. It would be like choosing favorite students. Well, to be fair, we all choose favorite students, but it isn’t polite to name them. So instead of favorites, I’ve picked 3 that inspired me to read more.  And the first of those is Where the Red Fern Grows.

2.     A Summer to Die by Lois Lowry
I read this sad, sad book over and over as a pre-teen. And every time I would cry and cry. I remember my mom asking, “Why do you keep reading that book when it makes you cry like that?” And I would say through tears, “because I love it.” And I really did.

And I continue to love books and movies that make me cry.  I prefer fiction that makes me cry actually. Non-fiction, I want to make me laugh. But fiction, I’ll take the cathartic experience of crying over a fictional character’s pain any day of the week.

     3.  “Barbie Doll” by Marge Piercy
Not sure if Mr. Geyer or Mrs. Farry at Whitehall-Yearling High School introduced me to this poem. But they both introduced me to so many things I am eternally grateful to them for, so I’ll just thank them both.

This poem absolutely changed me. It awoke a feminist consciousness in me. Taught me the power of poetry. And introduced me to the work of Marge Piercy. All three things I have drawn from in my life.

    4. Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes
Ok this one I'm sure I read in Mrs. Farry's class. I chose it from a list for my senior project. And I loved everything about it. I loved the post-modern techniques in a novel from the 1600's. I loved the theme and the characters. I loved the original plot and all the variations in work inspired by it. It is not my favorite book of all time, but it is my favorite story of all time. To dream the impossible dream. And you know I live to charge windmills...

    5. It was on fire when I lay down on it by Robert Fulghum 
Like Marge Piercy, once I was introduced to Fulghum, I read everything he wrote. He's been like my personal adviser for living a good life. The title essay from this collection has always stayed with me as a cautionary tale. He tells the true anecdote of a fireman who asks someone how the fire started on the bed they were laying on. Answer- I don't know it was on fire when I lay down on it. Fulghum reminds us that before we get too smug, we should remember we all lay down in burning beds. "I knew he was trouble when I started dating him."

    6. Language Files Fifth Edition Department of Linguistics/The Ohio State University
Ok, this book really did change my life. Literally. You need a little background to understand how. So when I was a freshman in college I took a sociology course. One day we read about a girl who had been locked in a closet for most of her childhood and the effects that had on her. One of course being a lack of language abilities. This got me thinking about how one could even think without language. I became slightly obsessed with this question for about a month. I would argue both sides with myself because my friends quickly tired of the debate. And I tried to find psychology or sociology books that would help answer my question. All without satisfaction. Some of the books would get close to the issues I was trying to examine, but none ever honed exactly in on what I wanted to know. So eventually I dropped it. 

Fast forward a couple years and I was a junior in another college and an International Studies student. I decided to get a certificate to Teach English as a Second Language just as an add-on to my degree. My thinking was I could travel the world teaching English. The first required class was "Introduction to Linguistics." I had no idea really what linguistics was. I suspected it was like grammar.

I showed up the first day and opened my textbook. There was a heading in the table of contents- "Language and the Brain." It was like a light bulb went off over my head. I can still feel the joy of that discovery. Armed with the word linguistics, I immediately went to the Used Bookstore and bought like 10 books and read them all. Suddenly everything I had wanted to talk about years before was possible.  I immediately changed my major to English with a concentration in TESOL so that I could take every class the University offered in Linguistics. And thus altered my life. As an English major I decided to apply for a job at the Writing Center. Where I met a physics student... But that's another story.

    7. Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare (allegedly)
Lynsie put books she likes teaching on her list, and that reminded me of my love of teaching Julius Caesar.  I only taught American High School students for 2 years while Jason was in graduate school in Virginia. But the experience of teaching High School will change anyone! My sophomore students were required to read this play. And I was so thankful to be teaching great political speeches and intrigue and betrayal instead of Romeo and Juliet...

     8. First Break All The Rules by Marcus Buckingham, Curt Coffman
This is the best management book I've ever read. And I've read a lot to be honest. More than necessary really.  But more than a management book, this book is a philosophy for how to value and maximize the strengths of people in all areas of your life. And the Strengthfinders stuff to come out of this book is fantastic. I live my life by it.

      9.  Year of Living Biblically by AJ Jacobs
Readers of my blog, and friends of mine offline know I adore AJ Jacobs. This book is why. It tackles serious issues with humor and heart. I read it at the exact moment in my life when I needed to hear the answers he found. I know I said I wasn't going to name favorite novels, but when asked what my favorite book is- this is always the answer I give.

     10. “I Dwell in Possibility" by Emily Dickinson 
This poem doesn't just speak to me. It speaks for me. Across time and space I found a kindred spirit.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

I dwell in possibility

My 7-year-old got in the car after school the other day and announced, "I still believe in Santa, but I'm getting kind of suspicious of those Elves on the Shelf." Not much gets past her.

This revelation got me thinking about a blog post I've been writing off and on in my mind for the last 20 years or so. You can see at that pace why this blog only has a handful of entries...

The year was 1992. I was in college watching one of my then all-time favorite movies "The Lost Boys" with a friend who shockingly had never seen it. When the vampires in the movie fly around, the camera angle is from their perspective. So my friend asks, "Are they flying as bats or men?" "I don't know, men I guess." To which she says, "oh that's ridiculous. I don't believe that." Still makes me laugh. Vampires- fine. Vampires turning into bats- fine. Vampires flying around like Superman- ridiculous.

And so through the years I've been mentally collecting these lines people draw in what they are willing to believe. One of my favorites was when my then 4-year-old cousin was watching Rocky and Bullwinkle. He looks up from the tv and calmly says, "Squirrels can't talk." Yep. There you have it. The only logical flaw in the Rocky and Bullwinkle Show...

These lines come up at my The Little Gym often too. Just recently I walked into a 3-year-old class just in time to hear a girl tell her teacher, "those snakes aren't real." True. Because the "snakes" were actually just scarves tied around the beam. But notice she didn't say, "those scarves aren't snakes." She said, "those snakes aren't real." So part of me thinks she entertained the idea of them being snakes in her head just long enough to draw her line. And even as she made her statement, she was looking for reassurance...

What also amuses me is the flip side- the leaps we'll make to justify a belief. (And now I'm just speaking about kids here, so no one extrapolate this to apply to any adult beliefs...) Back to my daughter and Santa. So last year for Christmas my older daughter asked for a robot toy from Santa. She received a blue penguin robot. Blue being her favorite color and penguins her favorite animal. When her younger sister saw this miraculous gift, she said, "see sissy! Now do you believe in Santa? Who else would know you liked blue and penguins? I told you Santa was real!" Indeed. Who else....

A couple of weeks ago my 7-year-old Elf skeptic came home and announced she had "scientifically proven fairies existed." She added, "My friend saw one. And you know, if you see something you can believe it. And if your friend sees something you can believe it. Right, mom?" I had a small moral crisis about how to answer her. Wasn't sure if I I wanted to crush her belief in eye witness testimony. My husband however, had no such crisis. He told her that wasn't scientific proof. He explained that was the least reliable kind of evidence. Then he listed for her reliable "hard" evidence she would need to prove their existence. The best being capturing a live fairy, but they decided that if she found a piece of a wing or some pixie dust, that would be good enough. So the hunt continues... at least till her belief line in fairies moves... 

As for me, I like my lines widely drawn. I leave room for lots of things to fit. I dwell in possibility...

I dwell in Possibility – (466)
By Emily Dickinson
I dwell in Possibility –
A fairer House than Prose –
More numerous of Windows –
Superior – for Doors –

Of Chambers as the Cedars –
Impregnable of eye –
And for an everlasting Roof
The Gambrels of the Sky –

Of Visitors – the fairest –
For Occupation – This –
The spreading wide my narrow Hands
To gather Paradise –

Monday, September 8, 2014

I literally learned something new...

I speak in hyperbole. I exaggerate and over emphasize for effect. I adore figurative language, and I live in metaphors. And I yet I thought I had a good grasp of reality. Even thought my mastery of metaphor gave me a leg up on understanding people and the world.

And since my children were young, I've been teaching them that we are part of an interdependent web of life, and I've worked to make sure they know we are all connected on this great big world of ours. And I've felt proud of how I'm intentionally raising tolerant children who are comfortable with diversity and respectful of the earth.  And then recently, I learned something that blew me away. It was as if I had been struck by lightning.

Guess what I learned? We are part of an interdependent web of life. Everything is connected! And not just in some metaphorical way. Literally.

Apparently, everything is made of atoms. And not just any atoms, the same atoms that have always been making things! Aside from meteorites, everything on earth has been recycled out of
the same atoms for 4.5 billion years. The same atoms! How awesome is that? So you could be made of atoms that used to hold Joan of Arc together. Literally. I cannot stress that point enough. And these atoms just keep changing configuration to form new parts of our interdependent web.

I am certain that for some of you, this information is not new. I know this in part from the reaction of my own scientifically minded husband when I asked him to confirm the validity of this information about atoms. I continually present new cause for him to shake his head and sigh... (thankfully love is patient)

So anyway, laugh at me if you must, but even when I said, "we are all connected"  I didn’t mean literally. Except for maybe in the sense of how a weather  or economic event on one side of the world will affect the other. It never occurred to me the same atoms that were once in ancient people are now in me. But they are.

Add this to all the new found information I've been gleaning on my pursuit to join the Global Family Reunion , and I can safely say I have a new sense of belonging to the interdependent web of life. And a new gratitude for everything and everyone that I am connected to- which again- is everything and everyone.

Learning has always been joyful for me, but learning something new that I thought I knew, has been awesome. Literally.  So I'd like to offer up that you take a new look at something you thought you knew. Be open to discovering an entirely new perspective. And then share it with the rest of us. Because our web could use a bit of stretching now and then. So says this one random angel...

Sunday, August 31, 2014

7 things you shoud know if you plan to marry a rocket scientist

Ok, so all these lists going around online have inspired me to write a list of my own. This is one I've been working on for the last 16 years while married to my husband...

1. Unless your spouse works in propulsion, don't refer to him/her as a rocket scientist. 
My husband is an aerospace engineer. Whenever I tell someone what he does for a living, they say, "oh, he's a real life rocket scientist?" Wait, let me back up- whenever I tell someone who does NOT live in Huntsville, Alabama aka "Rocket City" that he owns a small aerospace engineering firm with contracts to NASA and commercial space companies, they say, "oh, he's a real life rocket scientist?" To which I have to say, "well, no actually. He doesn't work on propulsion." Insert blank stares here. But I say it. Because that is what is expected of the spouse of an aerospace engineer. Technically correct representations of the facts.

My husband at his firm Zero Point Frontiers

So the remainder of this list will be 6 things you should know if you plan to marry an aerospace engineer...

1.  Your spouse will prefer estimations to include numbers and not metaphors. 
Speaking of technically correct representations of the facts, my husband always wants me to clarify what I mean by "a lot." For example, it is not acceptable to say "there is a lot of water coming from the pipe below the sink." He wants some sort of number value given to the amount of water. And usually a number involving the duration of said leak too...

2. Directions will be given in terms of east/west and the like and not "turn by the carwarsh."

My husband has frequently asked me "where is the sun?" while giving me directions. I don't know? In the sky.... All I can say is that Google Maps has pretty much saved our marriage...

3. Your household may become early adopters of new technology.

My husband has waited hours if not days in line (how's that for number estimates!) for the latest iphone. And we've upgraded our tv more than our carpet. We also bought the first Pruis off a car lot in Southern CA. Sometimes this can be frustrating, but if you go with it, you can reap great rewards.

I remember being frustrated with a gift of a Tivo shortly after my first daughter's birth 10 years ago. I had no idea what a Tivo was, but I was certain we didn't need it. And annoyed that he thought I would want one. Then I discovered that I could PAUSE live tv whenever my new baby needed attention. So I could be a good mom, AND not miss a moment of my show. Win-win. And suddenly my husband was the genius everyone assumed him to be...

4. You might become a science fiction fan.

Before the marriage I did like me some Star Trek, not gonna lie. But in the last 16 years, my exposure to science fiction has multiplied at a rate like the tribbles. Some of it is bound to stick...

File:ST TroubleWithTribbles.jpg

5.  Before you know it, your kids will know more about the universe than you do.

When my daughter was 5 she declared, "I'm bored with Daddy taking us to school. All he does is tell us science stories. I know everything now. I even know how a black hole is formed."
Same year she told me she loved me as much as the amount of "earths fit into the sun." Which she said was more than a million. And according to my fact checking, she was correct. So I felt really loved and sadly inadequate that my 5-year-old knew more about the scale of things in our universe than I did... 

6. If you ask a question, be prepared for an answer. 

My standard disclaimer to any friends or family that visit the U.S. Space and Rocket Center with us is this, "Don't ask Jason a question unless you really want to know the answer." Because if you point to something randomly and ask, "what's that?" you might get a 15 minute mini-lecture on the history of space hardware. Which can be fascinating if you are prepared. Which is also true of the whole marriage experience. Fascinating if you are prepared. So says this one random angel... 

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Can you play me a memory?

"Son can you play me a memory?" Quick. Name that tune... If you said Piano Man by Billy Joel you win. No prize but pride really. But still, that's something. So good job, you!
Now back to my random thoughts on playing memories...

The piano man got me thinking about the way songs can take one in an instant back into a memory. I'm not talking about artists or genres that remind us of a time period in our life. I'm talking about specific songs that seem to transport us in time and space to other specific moments in time and space. And since I was driving with hours ahead of me when those thoughts began, I was able to let my mind play me some memories. But don't worry, I've since arrived at my destination. I'm not blogging and driving... 

One of my song transporters is "Danger Zone" by Kenny Loggins. I hear it and suddenly it is 1986 again, and I am 12 years old. My friends and I have just walked through English Village up to the movie theater by Zettler Hardware. I can hear Shannon Marshall say loudly as we enter, "where we gonna sit?" like it was yesterday. And I smile remembering how much we laughed that day. And lots of other days. But that's the one burned into my memory tied to that song.

I have many others. I shared in my first ever blog post how "Earth Angel" takes me to 8th grade. And nothing can transport me back to high school faster than "Knock on Wood." And not just high school, but a Friday night on the football field. Yep. I'm marching in the band. In my Ram band. And I'm oh so cool...Speaking of cool,  "99 Dead Baboons" and "Lydia the tattooed lady" magically whisk me away to a road trip in 1994. You can tell by those titles that it was an awesome trip. Four great friends cruising up and down the eastern coast. Ceiling upholstery held in place with staples and the ashtray full of change.

I'll stop there. Because I realize this post has been a bit indulgent. So I invite you now to indulge in your memories. Try to hear a song in your mind that transports you through time and space. It's fun. No TARDIS or other time machine necessary I promise. And I hope you play some happy memories.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Let's all meet at the Global Family Reunion!

I just found out I am a cousin of my favorite non-fiction writer, AJ Jacobs. And by cousin, I mean I am a distant relative on his Aunt Jane's husband's side of the family. And by distant relative, I mean we have 31 degrees of separation between us on the WikiTree Connection Finder.
And that, my friends, is good enough to get me in the family photo!

This photo will be taken at the Global Family Reunion in New York City, June 2015. And you are all invited too. The website describes the event as "the biggest, most extraordinary and most inclusive family reunion in history. Come meet fascinating cousins you never knew you had — and learn about how we are building a Family Tree of the entire Human Race."

Sounds awesome, right?!? And as for the photo, "Those with a proven connection to the world’s biggest family tree (currently at 77 million people) get a bracelet and take part of the largest family photo in history." And if all that isn't enough to get you excited, "Sister Sledge will lead us in the largest sing-along of “We Are Family” in history." How could you not want to be part of that?!

So in order to connect myself to this Family Tree, I had to do some research. Prior to starting, I literally only knew the names of 4 out of my 8 great-grandparents. And I knew zero about any one else further back on my tree. But I knew I loved reading about all of AJ Jacobs projects through the years, and here was my chance to be part of one. So I started with no other goal in mind really than to get my bracelet and eligibility for the picture.

I actually met that goal pretty early on in my research. Through my great-grandma Rodger's side of the family. But as I started to add names to my family tree, I kinda got hooked on it. And I've learned some really cool things about many of my ancestors.

My 7-year-old daughter's favorite fact is that I traced one branch of my tree back to King Alpin and Queen Fergusia of Scotland. She asked, "so we are royalty?!?" I tried to explain that we were just distant descendants of Royalty on one branch of our tree. This was pretty much a distinction without a difference for her. So if you run into her one day, and she expects you to kneel, I apologize... Of course she also requested that I trace us back to the first monkey. I told her unfortunately written records didn't go back that far...

My favorite newly found ancestor by far is my 1st cousin 8 times removed, Mary Elizabeth Greenlee (born McDowell). She was born in Northern Ireland in 1707, and she died in Rockbridge County, Virgina in 1809. She is described in one history as, "a feisty lady. Some people thought she was a witch. The Indians thought she was crazy. They believed bad things would happen to them if they harmed a crazy person and Mary was allowed to freely roam in and out of their camps. Mary probably was not crazy, but was actually very smart, although somewhat eccentric."
Now that's someone I am proud to call family...

True confession time, I moved to the South 15 years ago, and I never understood the Southern obsession with family history. In fact, I kinda mocked it. My husband and I hung a plaque marker on our first house that read, "In 1868 nothing happened here." I really did not get the pride people had in their lineage or in who had lived or slept once in their homes ages ago.

And I certainly did not care about who my ancestors were. What I realize now, is that I did not care because I did not know. Over the last weeks I have developed an unexpected attachment to my roots. I feel part of something bigger than I ever have before. I have felt a little less of just one random life.

It is easy to not care about something when you have little to no knowledge about it. Which is kind of the point of the whole Global Family Reunion Project. When you realize you are literally related through blood or marriage to 77 other million people (and counting) it makes it harder to not care about those other people. And the more knowledge one gets about our great big human family, the hope is the more one will care about our great big human family.

And so my friends and followers, I look forward to singing with you all one day:

We are family
I got all my sisters with me
We are family
Get up everybody and sing

Everyone can see we're together
As we walk on by
and we fly just like birds of a feather
I won't tell no lie
 all of the people around us they say
Can they be that close
Just let me state for the record
We're giving love in a family dose
We are family
I got all my sisters with me
We are family
Get up everybody and sing

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

The Thinking Hobby

My 7-year-old daughter self-identified "thinking" as one of her hobbies for a form I was filling out about her. At first I chuckled, but then I wrote it in realizing that "thinking" is one of her hobbies. So much like any proud mommy sharing products from her child's hobbies, here are some of my favorite of her "thoughts":

 -One day when she was about 5, she heard on the radio a news story about someone who had just died. She says to me, "Mommy, if we are all connected, we should have a funeral for that person." Huh. I was a bit worried about the logistics of that request, so I said, "well, we are all connected and that is a beautiful idea, but unfortunately too many people die a day for us to have a funeral for everyone. How about we have a moment of silence for all of them before bed time?" This was acceptable to my thinker. That night we started the practice. I said, "and now we will have a moment of silence for all those that died today. We are thankful for all the ways our lives have been made better by the people who came before." My thinker adds, "Yes. Like Abraham Lincoln." To which I say, "yes, like Abraham Lincoln and members of our own family who have passed on but whose lives touched ours." She gets the last words in, "but mostly Abraham Lincoln." :)

-One day not too long ago, my thinker was playing "house" with her best friend. They both wanted to be the mom of the baby. A potential landmine of conflict...but my thinker saves the day,
"I know, we can be gay." -my daughter
"What's gay?" -friend
"You know, when someone has two mommies or two daddies."
"Oh, yeah, right. Sounds good." 
And so the age old question of who gets to be the mommy was solved. I promise you that thought would have never occurred to me as a child. But then my hobby wasn't thinking... 
(and if you are wondering what the friend's mom thought about this- the girls were actually playing at her house, and she was equally proud of their problem solving. She's cool like that.) 

-Back in the summer of 2013, my thinker carried a Slinky named Michelle around with her everywhere. One day on the way to a party, she asked, "what if someone has a toy with them cooler than mine?" I started to answer with some wise words about sharing or jealousy, but before I could get any words out, she chuckled and said, "I'm just kidding. What could be cooler than a slinky?"

- August 2012 new kindergarten thinker's homework was to "draw 3 objects." She drew a mudpie, onion grass in a sink, and the big red chicken from Dora. When I asked her why those 3 objects, she said "I thought they would be interesting choices." Indeed.

And finally for my visual thinker friends, I am going to share a few photos of her costume choices through the years. Because she can never just dress up like a simple character. That's not how thinker's think...

While some toddlers choose to be Cinderella, she created "Fairy Princess Meow"
At a spaced themed party with her friend Buzz. She chose to go dressed as a black hole.

Most recent Halloween costume. She chose a Doc McStuffin's costume off the rack. Then she added accessories from home- result: Doc McStuffins dressed like a cowgirl.

 I have no doubt one day this "thinking hobby" or hers will transform the world. So stay tuned for that. And for more from this one random angel...

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Seize and Celebrate Joy!

Have you ever seen a parent or grandparent celebrate their child’s first step or the first time they went to the potty?

Despite the fact that billions of people who came before took a step and went to the potty, we still celebrate those moments with our own children with a level of enthusiasm usually reserved for winning some great award or honor. And we should. We should clap and praise and make them feel like they have done something great. They peed in the potty after all. That IS awesome. No one questions that.

And yet when those same children get a little older, we stop celebrating milestones with them. Worse, we sometimes even stop noticing or encouraging. Children are constantly saying, “watch this” or “look at me.” And they think they are doing amazing things. Amazing things as great as peeing in the potty. And when they are craving our attention and positive feedback, how many of us just give a half-hearted “yeah, great” without even really looking? In our busy lives, we forget the pride and joy of accomplishing simple things that billions of people who came before have already done. We stop celebrating the things that make us human.

There is a game we play often at The Little Gym called “Slam the Cheese.” We stand a “cheese mat” (an incline mat for rolling down) up on its end and the kids just run right in to it and knock it down. That’s the whole game. And kids love it. And you can see the pride and joy in their faces when they stand up from knocking it over. They simply knocked down a mat with the help of momentum and gravity. And they feel like winners. And they should. Like the 2-year-old who peed in the potty.

Did I mention that in this Slam the Cheese game, there are no angry birds, no zombies, no endermen, no bells, no fancy graphics. Just forces of nature, the human spirit, and a rush of adrenaline. That’s all children need to feel joy really.  
When a child is smiling like they’ve won the lottery just because they are swinging on the rings by themselves, I remember what real joy looks like. When I turn on the music and the toddlers start dancing on the spot, I couldn’t stop myself from smiling if I wanted to. And don’t even get me started about bubble time!
My hope for us, my friends, is that we too can find these moments of joy, these simple gifts, to experience. And they are everywhere. Children tend to find these moments. They make their own joy. Adults, not so much. We tend to take ourselves, and the world, a bit more seriously. I say no more.

Let’s seize fleeting moments of real joy when we can. Not just do activities we enjoy, or participate in things we think we should, let’s challenge ourselves to find moments where our hearts are pumping and we couldn’t stop smiling if someone paid us to. And Summer is the perfect time to experience these moments. Perhaps try dancing at dusk with fireflies.  Or doing a cartwheel on your front lawn. Maybe try to catch frog.

Let’s celebrate with our children and with ourselves the simple gifts we get to experience each day. No matter how many people throughout history have spotted a hummingbird before, it IS still amazing when we do.  And even though we now understand the science behind rainbows and sunsets and full moons, we can still marvel in the magic of them.

And if you are having trouble one day finding a moment of joy, blow bubbles.

Bubbles are a special kind of magic. Take it from this one random angel...

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Becoming whole...

If you asked someone to describe me, I have no doubt you would hear things like, “She talks a lot; she talks fast; she is outgoing” And I do. And I am. At any point in my life you could have observed me in a large social group seemingly in the center of it laughing and having fun. Which I was most of the time. What you could not have seen is how broken I felt or how much anxiety I held surrounding a secret I kept from almost everyone.
Warning: this is not my normal online posting. I’m going to let you all in on that secret today. Instead of my typical bubbly ramblings, this will be a confessional of sorts. So if you came to this page expecting to laugh, I understand totally why you might want to stop reading now… but if you want to hear my story, my real story, here we go…
So I was born with a rare birth defect called Poland Syndrome. A fancy way of saying I was born without one of the muscles in my chest that everyone else has. As a result, my right breast did not develop or grow at all. In fact, that side of my chest was sunken in a bit.
Outwardly, I did not let this affect me much. Intellectually I knew many people had way more serious problems than I did anyway. In many other ways I was so blessed. Wow. Even in my own confessional I am having trouble owning my own pain. It is much easier to rationalize why this shouldn’t have affected me than to continue with the story of how it did. Deep breath and trying again…
To say I was a social adolescent would be an understatement.  For example, I was voted “most-talkative” my senior year by a landslide.  And throughout my youth, I had many wonderful friends. One of whom would mockingly call me “little miss activity” because I was involved in so many things. My point is that I was not off hiding in a corner. I was hiding in plain sight. I was hiding my shame. My sense of knowing I wasn’t whole. My fear that if any of my “friends” really knew what a freak I was, they wouldn’t like me. My terror that at any moment the grotesque truth would be revealed and people would no longer be laughing with me, but at me.
Now this is not to say I was always thinking those thoughts. But there were SO many normal moments and times that brought them to the forefront again of my mind. Things that are supposed to be joyous or rites of passage were the moments when I was most vulnerable to those thoughts of being a freak: changing for gym class, going swimming, shopping, (low cut clothes were my nemesis) dating, making-out, looking for dresses for dances, costumes I had to wear for choir and plays, sleep-overs- the list could go on and on. But you get the idea.
Every shopping trip ended in tears. Every time I was required to change clothes in front of people I was nearly paralyzed with fear. And I learned so many ways to change without being seen. All while being the most-talkative.
And being the social butterfly that I was, I also dated. A lot if I am being honest. But it felt too often like a chore. Instead of enjoying a kiss, I was constantly monitoring hands and positioning my body in a way to keep my secret hidden. And most of the time thinking the boy only liked me because he didn’t know what I really was. Thinking that I had fooled him into thinking I was whole and desirable. And so dating and being popular became a way of convincing myself I was good at hiding my ugly truth.
Now here is the good news part. My saving grace. Or rather my self-esteem saviors.  For I did somehow mange the courage to confide in a handful of friends and boyfriends through the years growing up, and every one of them contributed to saving me. Of that I am certain. Because by some miracle, no matter how immature the person was that I trusted with this confidence (I mean literally age-wise immature), every one of them uplifted me. None of those confidants made me feel anything less than whole. And a few of them made me feel genuinely beautiful.  And for those precious moments in my life, I almost believed that I was beautiful. But then I would look in the mirror. And the shame and fear of everyone knowing would overcome me again. And I would continue to hide.
I sometimes think about how my life might have turned out differently if even one of those friends had reacted the way I feared people would. If one of them had ridiculed me. If one of them had said, “well, I liked you before, but now that I really see you…” I honestly have no idea how my self worth might have been damaged beyond repair. But I suspect that it would have been. I was so fragile and on the edge emotionally. But not one of them pushed me off it. Instead, they each helped make me a little less fragile. And so to those life-saving friends, I am eternally grateful. Because they helped push me away from the edge and little by little onto a path of wholeness.
And it has been a long path. I had reconstructive surgery when I was 19 years old. And despite the breast implant, or maybe because of it, I still felt like a freak for many years. I could not speak about my Poland Syndrome to anyone-doctors, friends, family members, anyone- without crying until I was about 30. And I continued to hide my scars. My literal scars.  I did not wear a bathing suit or shirt with a low neckline until I was 39 years old. I honestly could not do it. And again, this despite all the love and acceptance of my husband and every other friend along the way that knew my secret.
The shame came from within. The fear and the loathing were self generated. Truth is, I am whole. I was then. I have as much worth as anyone to be loved. I did back then too. A fact that was reinforced by those life-saving friends. Everyone needs to be loved in a way that makes them feel whole. And we need to love ourselves that way too.
So why am I confessing this now? Well, I am at a UU leadership training and today we watched a TedTalk by Brene Brown on The Power of Vulnerability. (A talk I highly recommend you go watch.) And during her talk, she spoke of how shame and fear keep us from being vulnerable, which keep us from being fully happy and successful. And it struck me that I wanted to tell my story. And by struck I mean I was crying uncontrollably and was only able to stop crying when I began to write...
And so I write this for two reasons: One to tell my story and free me of any last hold that shame had on me. And secondly, to send this message out into the world: It is impossible to see who doesn’t feel whole. It is not always the people hiding in the corners. Sometimes it is the social butterfly seemingly flitting through life.
So many of us feel shame, and too many of us feel we need to hide something. For some it is addiction, or abuse, or body image, or family dysfunctions, or sexual orientation, or gender identification, or mental health issues or something else I can’t even conceive of but that is crippling for another. 
And so my prayer is that this story finds it way to someone who needs to hear it. Someone who needs to hear that even extroverted, successful people with seemingly full lives can feel broken. Can feel shame and fear of acceptance. You are not alone. 
And I want you to know dear reader, that you are whole. You are worthy. You are loved. And so am I…