Look at what I'm hoping to get soon!  It's a pergola, for those of you not in the construction know.  I take the bold liberty of posting some pictures of the one belonging to my dear old friend, hoping that she's fine with her picture being sent out to all of cyberland.  Or at least my little corner of it.  I love it and can't wait to have one of my very own.  And so the ball rolleth...  I'll keep you posted.
I don't know that I've felt so sad, consistently before, at any other life stage.  The sadness is not for naught though, and it feels stretching.  I can feel myself slowly growing into a better person because of it, which encourages me and makes me know that the blue is valuable because it shows the yellow to be all the more yellow on those days where the sun shines.  Today, again, I spent the morning at the senior's home.  Today it felt as though my heart broke.  The sadness there is sometimes nearly palpable. 

I was at the end of my shift and was sort of numb already, because of all the sadness I'd encountered in the drab little rooms.  I held beautiful little ladies in my arms today as they sobbed with dignity.  The word lady was sadly pluralized today.  Before this place, I'd never known up close what it looks like to wish for death.  So many of these lovely old people aren't negative, they aren't cranky, but some of them are just depleted of any wish to continue on. 

At the very best of times, I don't have an overflowing emotional reservoir to draw from in the support of devastated people not able to continue on alone anymore.  To say that I'm not a shining example of EQ is an understatement.  I focus on task more than on people.  I can do happy, but there's very little else in my emotional repertoire.  

And so as I made my way to the front door after having signed out in the volunteer book, I felt like a dishrag that someone had wrung out - and ruthlessly at that.  As I walked along the corridor, a dear little lady with pink-rimmed eyes came to her doorway.  I know now that she was looking for some human contact.  I mustered some cheer and asked her how she was.  She bowed her frail little head and said How am I?  The Lord took my best friend away from me yesterday.  Her shoulders seemed too tiny to bear such a burden and I felt that familiar ache in the back of my throat and even tears sprung to my eyes.  I looked over her shoulder and saw her husband's empty bed, stripped bare to the mattress.  The sight of it was harsh even to me, and I had hardly known the man.  The unthinkable had become real; he'd died and left her.  We walked into her room together, united just for a moment in shared grief, hers gapeing and monstrously large, mine amateur but growing as I touched her frail arm.  I hugged her for a long time, and gathered what remnants of self-control I had left about me as I did.  She told me over in various different ways how she wasn't sure how she'd go on now that he was gone.  I knew that she would, though.  She had the obvious markings of a survivor.  She'd been a single missionary in India for a large chunk of her adult life and had only met Seth later on in life.

As she talked about him, I could see that she was one of the few who truly counted her days with him as blessed.  She cherished him but didn't wax on dramatically about it.  Her love - her quietly deep love - for him was enough in and of itself and she clearly didn't feel the need to dramatize about it, or about her loss of a life's partner.  The dignity of it - and of her - made me feel stabs of shame for all of my own repeated displays of silliness through life.  She was beautiful, truly beautiful, in that moment and when it's my turn, I want to be just like her.

I wonder what it's like to wake in the morning one day, to look over at one's husband - a many decade's old friendship - and to see him lying there lifeless and gone from this earthly place.  Sadie asked me to pray that God would give  her courage this week and it strikes me that she's not the only one who needs it.  Please pray for this dear lady if you are one who does.
I'm learning what life is like, living with an older child.  My Anabel is very nearly 14.  I learn as I make my way through parenting a teenager that they sometimes take it upon themselves to take and then put pictures like this of you up on social networking sites:
She doesn't mind that you're eating.  She thinks it's hilarious, for all that.

You don't want to make a stink about it though, for at all cost, you know you must model wholeness to her.  You mustn't come across as *insecure* of all things.  In fact, you think it's fantastic that she's chosen this picture to show her 230 friends on Facebook.  Look how whole you are, posting it here on your own blog!  That's how little you mind these things.  Now where is that picture she snapped of her Daddy peeing which she took using the dually helpful reflections of two separate mirrors?  Her thoughts on that?  He's the one who left the door open.  It's not *my* fault!
I'm learning that many of the things I imagined I required from my growing children are idealistic at best and ridiculously, squashably unattainable at worst.  I expected that I'd need to patiently explain things to them only once.  They'd then nod with an otherworldly wisdom and move on from there, bettered little creatures, never again to struggle with this same issue.

I imagined that they'd smell of roses and sunshine.  And only perhaps other flower species, varying from child to child, because in my mind, I magnanimously allowed for individual differences.

I dreamed that they would excel at everything they put their hands to, for I knew in my heart that they would be unusually gifted children, cut not of ordinary cloth, but of shinier, more ethereal stuff.

I knew that they would be fairy-tale children, leaving harmonious relationships and bubblegummy peace in their wakes.  So when I learned that my glimmering Thumbelina had been teasing her friend about her dependency upon Goodnights at the ripe old age of 10, I very nearly couldn't believe it.   In fact, I may not have, were it not for the fact that the Mama to the little girl in question very lovingly, very gently,  told me all about it.  She wasn't the kind of Mama who seeks to bring shame to other mothers so that she can feel better about her own parenting repertoire, but was a gentle, lovely, laughing One who told me in such a way so as to spare my maternal dignity because she knew that I wanted - nay needed - to know.  How else was I to help my little girl out of the place which found her delighting in the shame of someone else?  My Thumbelina seemed a little less glittery on that day.  But she became more substantial, too and less vaporous and more mine. 

My Pinocchios, too, become more real the farther through life they go.  Or at least their Mother begins to see them for who they really are, which is flesh-and-blood children who need loves and cuddles and no more maternal blind eyes cast their way, glossing over imperfections, imagining them to be faultless.  The fruitless hope that if maybe I squeeze my eyes closed tightly enough, then maybe their weaknesses might just be rendered nonexistent is just that: fruitless.  It's naive and it's hollow.  And it precludes real relationship with these real little people.  It makes them think that maybe they should default to lying to me, their doting, exacting mother, so as not to burst her hot air balloon propelling her through her land of make-believe.  That land is a lonely one, though the glitter floats everywhere.

So now as I love them, I try to do so with my eyes open wide.  I remind myself (for it does not come naturally to me, as I am inclined toward being pridefully perfectionistic) to be open about my own failings so as to set the stage for a child-like version of just that same thing: an open sharing of failings.  I want for them to know that they can share all of themselves with me and know in their bones that I will always love them.   And I will love them all the more because they are not imaginary figments of my fairy-tale imagination.  They get dirt underneath their very tangible fingernails and they tattle and they work themselves up into dramatic fits, satisfying only to themselves in the very middle of that moment.  They exaggerate.  They stay up late, sometimes, past their bedtimes.  I sometimes find granola bar wrappers under their beds, stashed clandestinely.  They try to leave quickly on their bike rides without helmets, before I can see their bare heads and I love them so much.  Bare-headed, dirty-fingernailed, wonderful little people.
I derive inordinate pleasure from my yellow cooking pot.  I don't like anyone else to wash it, for that job is nearly sacred and therefore  mine alone. 

I love my gas fireplace on a cold winter's morning.   Better yet, couple that with tea and books.

Bengal Spice tea is practically a drug in my feel-good repertoire.  Especially when it's been steeped overnight.  Its natural cinnamony overtones sweeten it beautifully.

I love Ombra bubbles in my bath.  I could stay in there for hours, smelling their pungent smells.

I love Lululemon running clothes with their perfect little pockets made for carrying Ipods.

I love Anthropologie linens and Anthropologie everything.

I love the smell of lavender.

I love sunshine and positive people.  The two are sometimes directly linked, I think.

I love finding a new author I love, only to then discover that she's written scads of books. 

I love Zumba.  The ridiculous ways I'm asked to contort my body make me laugh.

I love freshly bathed kids with trimmed fingernails and clean ears.

I love watching my kids from my deck as they jump on the trampoline, a laughing, shrieking pile of happy kids reminding me of puppies, clambering all over one another.

I love sun-washed Hawaiian holidays with eminently whole sisters who are unashamed loud laughers.

I love waking up slowly on a weekend morning, only to find that someone in this world loves me enough to have placed a Starbucks coffee in an insulated mug on my nightstand.  He never forgets the cream.

I love the feeling of being completely surrounded by forest.

I love the smell of citrus peel.

I love cold, hard, crisp granny smith apples.  The perfect, unblemished greenness of them makes me feel like all is well in the world.  I think I like looking at them almost as much as I like eating them.

I love it when my Littlest says things like this to me still:  Moms are better than friends, I think.

I once knew a woman who had to dress her baby very carefully.  Not in the o is my precious bundle dressed in her best coordinated Baby Gap ensemble for maximum cuteness sort of way, but more in a can I stand to touch my own newborn because of the fabric cloaking her body sort of way.  She had an aversion to velvet, you see.

I know another lady who hates cats.  She hates them not for the allergies they bring in their feline wake, nor for the hair they deposit everywhere they go.  She just. can't. stand. them.  The idea of touching the long, lanky muscles just barely cloaked by skin and fur makes her cringe. 

I know two men who can't even look at a child with a danglingly loose tooth.  The only answer for these men is to avert their revolted eyes.

I, myself, am very nearly horrified by ketchup.  Though for the most part I try not to, when I think of putting some of this - to me - noxious substance in my mouth, I feel a speckle of tiny pricks spreading their horror-struck way across the back of my neck, culminating in an animalistic shake of my upper torso.  I'd rather eat bugs, frankly.  And I'm only exaggerating a little when I say this.

What perhaps irrational thing creeps you out?
Somehow or other, JoyBoy and I have managed to pool our genes and come up with someone magical.  Her name is Anabel and if you've read this blog for any time at all, you've met her before.  She's always been highly intelligent and unusually kind, but in the last year, another amazing quality in her young life has come to light, dazzling in its eccentric, unexpected brightness.  In the very midst of  14-year-old peers, clad head to toe in clothes trumpeting name brands out to all of Middle School Land, walks Anabel.  She's wearing an apron.  She's not in Home Economics or headed for some messy Science lab.  She flaunts its yellow ginghamyness for the sheer, unconventional joy of it.  Other days, she wears her beloved Daddy's cast off XL teeshirts, which say bold things like Field AgentJohn Deere across their fronts.  Only for the Anabel version, she makes them strapless, pushing her narrow little ribcage through the Daddy-sized neck holes.  She pushes the man-sized sleeves inside themselves, serving as pseudo-pockets.  All of this she wears over tights and a teeshirt of her own size.  The flourish (as though it were needed) is a thick black satin ribbon encircling her ribcage, tied in a confident and oversized bow.  Ah.  My Girl.  I look forward to seeing her enter the kitchen each morning for breakfast.  I know there is a surprise in wait for my viewing pleasure.  Colors - flamboyant brazen colors - are her dear friends.  She prides herself on the exploration of absolute virgin territory in the realm of clothes and fashion.  On Superhero Day at school, her eye-makeup was completely different from one eye to the other.  She looked fantastic.  I think I've mentioned the tunic adorned in masses of pinkly enthusiastic pigs.  Her favorite place to shop is Value Village because that's where you can find the most extraordinary things.  I can assure you that there are not masses of like-minded 14-year-olds flocking to the same ensembles - the gigantic multicolored ponchos, the  faux fur time-worn old coats - rushing to see who can get to them first.  She is a fashion law unto herself.

I love to goad her into wearing styles I love, but am not prepared to don for myself at this age.  Frankly, there is very little goading involved and the deliciousness of the prospect of a brand-new outfit rockets straight to her head, rendering her nearly exhilarated.

A lovely, gentle-souled teacher put her arm around Anabel's waist at school one day and said, Now tell me all about your outfit today, Anabel.  Anabel proceeded to do so with great enthusiasm and then laughed as she told the story to us at home later on.  She's so whole.

I think that some of the seeds of this new passion of hers have sprouted because of the years of uniform dressing that have been her lot up until this year.  She hated the sameness that she and her peers had no voice in establishing.  Though rebellious isn't a word that leaps to mind as I think of her, she would try to sneak a colorful tank top under her uniform top back in the monotonous day, just for that heady flash of color.  Her fingernails were almost always glitzily decorated.  She did what she could to get by and not feel squashed. Individualism means a great deal to my first-born girl.

Anabel marches to the beat of her own drummer, and fortunately for us as parents - for she would be a formidable force to contend with otherwise - we really like the beat we hear resonating through her young life.  It's so distinctive and so very, very Anabel.
My thoughts on old age spread through my consciousness like a science experiment carnation, steeping in food coloring saturated water.  My way of looking at life feels changed now, just as the white carnation morphs into a bright red one. 

I find myself looking at life now from a slightly, but importantly altered vantage point.  Now when I get motioned over by Oliver's teacher to debrief about his day (and we only debrief on those less-than-enchanting days, it seems), though my stab of annoyance with this spirited child still struggling for that elusive self-control isn't vanished entirely, I feel an awareness of his beautiful vibrance blanketing the lie he told about kicking his friends' lunch box as it sat - innocently - on the floor.  I hate that my little boy told a lie, but I'm conscious today - first - of the enormity of his joy.  I hope I don't forget anytime soon that these days are fleeting.  I hope I don't forget to see my wonderful child before I see the fib he tells.
Have I mentioned lately that I love you people?  Several of my real life (as opposed to cyber, but no less wonderful) blog-reading friends told me how much they, too, loved yesterday's tomato cans.  We share a near obsessive interest in the mundane!  Hearing about it made me so happy, I wanted to commemorate this joy with showing you what I ended up doing with the notorious can in question.  I had a little pot of parsley growing and I plunked it in.  The picture below shows the back of the can, which is also so lovely, I think.  Don't you think the woman looks like Mother Italy, Herself?
I'm making Chicken Parmesan.  The smells wafting their way about my kitchen are enough to make me want to renounce my Canadian citizenship and head straight for some more exotic land.  First, I work on the Tomato Sauce which cries out to be christened in some glamorously melodic language.  Plebian, mundane, sadly English 'Tomato Sauce' doesn't capture the sultry beauty of it.  I've splurged and bought my first can of really wonderful tomatoes.  They hail from Italy.   Look at how pretty they are.  I like the cans so much, I could see myself lining a part of my cabinet with them were not my cabinets lined already with other things I think are pretty.
When I opened these tomatoes, I felt a bit like an eager child.  I'd always wondered about these lovely, mysterious cans, but they always seemed like tomatoes for another, more prosperous day.  Tomatoes for another girl.  But today they belong to me and as I gaze into the can's rich redness, I see with my own eyes that these are indeed special tomatoes.  They are small and pear-ish and hold their shape beautifully.  A subtle bouquet of basil rises up to greet me in all its sublime freshness.  They are the farthest thing from the pulverized President's Choice mash that normally features so prominently in my cooking.  I didn't know canned tomatoes could be so lovely.

And then, as though these otherworldly globes were not enough for the procurement of culinary ecstasy, I follow the instructions to learn that I must then add these:
And this. 

And other lovely things.  I feel nearly fulfilled just sitting here in my kitchen, smelling it all melding, slowly, simmeringly.  I almost don't need to eat it, the aroma is so captivating.  I smell the licoricey basil, perhaps first and foremost.  If the ingredients have layered themselves, basil reigns, heady at the top.  I love basil and I never wash my hands after cutting it into its thin, pungent strips because I know I can then carry that smell with me as I live out the next portion of my day, cupping my hands against my face, breathing in deeply as I wait in my near-perpetual perch in the driver's seat of my car for various schools to dismiss various children.  Yes, I always err on the side of adding more basil.  I smell the tangy balsamic vinegar and the fresh parsley and the garlic.  I close my eyes briefly and believe in my heart that I am bellisima and that I live here:
Surely this rain and this Canadian persona are just a figment of my imagination.