Suddenly We Were Bouldering

Over the past few years, we’ve taken a mini-vacation to Yogi Bear Campground about an hour and a half southeast of the city. We met a delightful family a couple years ago with kids around the same age and personalities and energy levels that meshed with the boys. So every year we hang out together around the campfire making smores and popping in and out of the pool and going down the small water slides. The kids ride on their bikes and spend hours playing with whoever shows up at the Gaga pits. The biggest excitement of the campground, though, is the golf cart that I rent and then spend most of my days driving kids around.

Last year we decided to go off-site and visit Ohiopyle where the boys clambered around Cucumber Falls and experienced the thrill of jumping off a rock that juts about 12 feet out of the water and you can go deep into “just the right spot” about 2-3 feet away from the rock. This year they were so eager to go back that we even bought a cucumber to take along with us and hide in the rocks for others to find.

We started out Saturday morning and happily clambered down the sets of stairs to the bottom of the falls. Mr. Ornery (age 10), The Little Guy (age 8), my nephew (age 9) and our friend HockeyGirl (age 9) climbed over rocks to the base of the falls and Mr. Ornery ventured into the freezing water to be splashed by the spray. Then we ambled down the stream where the water of the falls merged with the Youghiogheny River. From that point, we could watch groups of people in kayaks and rafts as they ventured in the white water rapids.

Remembering that last year, we had hiked to the right of the tributary and came out to the jumping rock, the boys set off scrambling over rocks as my mom (age 78, by the way) and I hurried to keep up. Something in my head wondered if there wasn’t an actual “trail” that we followed last year….and don’t trails usually have markers on the trees or the rocks?….but the thought slipped in the need to keep up with the adventurers. After 20 or 30 minutes however, I realized that we weren’t coming to any trail and the rocks were getting larger and more difficult to climb over.

 

Pretty soon it was clear that we were out bouldering. And by the time it was closing in on a hour of exercise, I kept sending Mr. Ornery ahead to scout out if we could make it around the next obstacle. (Of course, what appears to be “doable” to a 10-year-old boy is quite different than a mom approaching fifty who is thinking of her own mother using a walking stick behind her!) My anxiety was starting to rise as it became clearer and clearer that we were no where near a path, the overgrowth was pretty overgrown and rose steeply up the hills to our right, and there loomed a huge rock up ahead. I couldn’t tell if it would be better to forge ahead or go back. I was stressed that my mom would tumble and break a hip or a head. I worried that one of the kids would get hurt as I watched them crawl under a fallen tree. Just at my peak stress about safety, my nephew let out a blood-curdling scream as a bee stung his cheek. This resulted in me squeezing under the tree, hugging him and talking down my 10-year-old who was hyperventilating with a fear of bees now. This was a bad idea, I kept screaming in my head. The kids were exhausted and hungry. There was no path ahead. My mom didn’t want to jump in the raft of the “first aid” rafter who had floated nearby a little bit earlier. I just didn’t know what would be best to do.

That’s when I heard some voices and looked up to find a couple guys coming down the side of the hill. I yelled out, “Is there a path up there?” He couldn’t hear me. I dashed back under the tree and scrambled up to him. “Yes,” he replied, “There was a path going back and forth that we crossed. Do you need help?” I gave him a hug as he directed the kids, my mom and I past tree branches and up onto a well-worn trail. “Thank you, thank you”, I yelled out as we parted and started following the yellow-painted trail markers. “Oh, so this is what the trail should be, eh?” said my mom, the experienced Girl Scout leader!  Yes, Mom….this is the trail we were supposed to be on (and the one that HockeyGirl later said, “Oh yes, I saw a sign directing to a trail right when we started but the boys were already off to the rocks!” Silly girl, boys don’t look around, they just bumble along. Feel free to yell out next time!!)

And that trail let us right to the rock which was right down the stream from the natural water slides that the boys had enjoyed the day before. And the kids got refreshed in the cool water while my mom and nephew walked up the road to get the car…and much to the great delight of The Little Guy, we made it back to the campground just in time for the Mardi Gras parade. The kids rode along throwing out beads to the eager kids and adults lining the roads of the campground.

“Let’s chalk that up to an experience,” suggested HockeyGirl at the end of the “hike.”  I gave her a huge high-five. “Yep, let’s call that off-ice, cross-country, cross-training for you, my dear HockeyGirl,” I replied.

Bouldering sure was an experience. Hopefully the kids can see how amazing they were to work together and keep persisting even when one was hurt and all were tired and hungry. Hopefully the kids can understand just how beautiful it is to help one another along life’s journey and guide each other to the easier paths when possible. Hopefully the kids can lift their heads and be awed and inspired by the beauty of this world – the gentle roar of rushing rapids, the power of moving water in carving out rocks and the joy of exploring creation.

And hopefully next time we’ll all look out for trail markers before setting off. Well, sometimes. And sometimes it’s nice to end up bouldering.

Make Good Ripples

Everybody needs your help

Clearing out some emails tonight, I saw the subject of one reading, “Seniors in Isolation Need Your Help.” My first thought was, gosh, really, when you think about it, everybody needs my help. The kids crying and traumatized in concentration (I mean, detention) camps need my help. Isolated senior citizens need my help. Whales swallowing plastic need my help. The neighbor down the street whose basement was flooded last week needs my help. A friend starting to acknowledge the severity of her ailing mother needs my help. And by golly, these crazy boys living in my house sure do need a LOT more help curbing their misdirected urine, intense energy and spontaneous life-threatening poor decisions.

It’s pretty easy to become scatterbrained clicking on every email and every story and every social media post calling out for your help. It’s pretty easy to start thinking that the world is completely falling apart based on the endless cries for help. And it’s pretty easy to start feeling hopeless that there’s no way this one aging, exhausted mother of three is ever going to meet all those cries for help.

It seems to me, though, that the key to saving the world is by focusing on the little thing right in front of you and letting the love spread. A colleague of mine ends all her emails with the words “Make good ripples.” This has been sitting on my mind. When I talk to undergraduate and graduate students and professionals about what can be done to tackle the enormous and complicated construct of poverty in this country, I ask them to think of small things that can be done every day to make a difference. Give someone a smile. Hold the door open. Make eye contact. Share a hug. The smallest gesture of acknowledging the humanity in one another will make good ripples. It will share a little joy that can spread into bigger and bigger ripples of service and advocacy.

Take that one step further and find a charity that matches your passion, whether it’s with children or animals, homelessness or the elderly, the environment or your house of worship. Become a monthly donor to sustain their work. Sign up for emails or texts to provide you with daily or weekly action points, such as calling or writing to your representative about issues. Read wisely and become informed. Listen to others’ stories and speak for those who cannot.

Another key is having appropriate expectations for oneself. There was a period of time in my life when I worked full-time, parented young kids and spent hours and hours every week opening up a non-profit to care for children and families. That was a time that I could hear the cry for help and meet the need. But I can’t work at that level, survive on reduced sleep at that level, and not be present for my own children at that level every day. My expectation has shifted to match my current situation and now I look for other ways to spread joy and serve.

Some days one can wander along the path of despair in the vastness of the need. Some days it can seem like there is no way to make a difference. Some days, you just have to refocus on meeting the needs of a few people at a time, knowing that tomorrow always brings new opportunities. I know that I can not save the world myself, but I know that I can continue to love others, serve others and make good ripples.

You Got This!

I had just finished the first leg of the Pittsburgh Marathon, running 5.3 miles at a pace generally faster than usual for me. This was a combination of a running partner who was clearly in better shape than I (since she could keep talking while running – ahhh!) and because we were having such an impassioned conversation that adrenaline was definitely flowing.

After giving sweaty hugs to the friend who took up the next leg of the relay and to my running buddy, I headed over to the river to soak in the majestic views offered by the city despite a gray and foggy sky. Along the way, I politely offered to push buttons on cell phones to convert people’s “selfies” into “real” photos as I feel it gives a much better perspective (I’m a bit snobbish that way!).

Eventually I approached the statue of Fred Rogers, I noticed a man in an animated face-time phone conversation who was showing his listener the views of the river and pointing out that you could see the runners on the other side. Having politely asked the mother of a two-year-old little boy (who was definitely “not” going to get close to Fred!) to take my picture beside him, I wandered back to the race course. There was the runner who had ended his conversation. We remarked politely as to how the weather had cooperated and the rain had ended. We wondered how we’d “politely” cross the course to get to where we had parked. And then we began talking about the charities that we had run for to raise funds. I explained the work of Haiti H2O and he listened intently. He explained that he had been a marathon runner and had survived a heart attack a few years ago. He was back to running and was clearly passionate about raising awareness of heart disease and helping others.

As we meandered across the road and then along the race course in the opposite direction, B started to cheer on the runners. I added some feeble-sounding encouragements as well, but his voice boomed. “You got this,” he exclaimed over and over again. He lifted his extra-large right hand enveloped in a neon green glove and started to give each runner a high-five. I often thought, “that person won’t move over for a high-five,” but they sure did.

We were along the course around mile 4.5 where those at the end of the long line of participants were making slow progress in running, jogging or walking the race. Some looked exhausted already. Some looked like they were determined to keep going. Some looked like they wondered why they were doing this in the first place. Some looked ready to quit. But each time B yelled out “You got this!” and gave them a high-five, their faces transformed into beautiful smiles and a spark shone from their eyes. Every one. Old. Young. Black. White. In shape or out of shape. They all responded to B.

“Look how they are lighting up and smiling,” I remarked as we continued along. “Yes,” he paused. “My kids often say ‘Cool it, Pop’ but to me, every moment is worth living.”

Every moment is worth living.

Every moment is worth giving another encouragement. Giving another a smile. Giving another just a little more power, a little more strength, a little more determination to continue on. Whether others are running a mile or a marathon or whether they are walking or running through this journey of life, may we all continue to share a smile, give a high-five, and boom out loud – “You got this!

Photo credit: Daniel Heckert; Story credit: Betsy Ann

 

The Giving Tree on Our Mantle

Mr. Ornery is impossible to take into a store. It’s a guaranteed extra $50-75 any time we check-out. He always “needs” something — whether it’s a specific food item or the “need” to spend his allowance. It is always something.

And I try to remind myself that this is part of growing up and that if I continue to persist, hopefully we’ll make it to the point where his “giving” nature is a bit greater than his “accumulating” nature. But if you take a look at his current Nerf gun collection and Legos you know that we have a long way to go.

There are glimpses of hope, however. He does like to give gifts to friends. At Christmas time he really wanted to buy some toy skateboards to give to his friends with whom he plays a recess. Apparently a few of them bring in these mini skateboards and try to make them do flips and tricks using their fingers. He is also quite generous with gifts for his teachers and will “gift” things around the house to his brothers, like putting together a snack for them or wrapping up a toy and giving it to them.

A couple weeks ago, my sister took my younger two and her 8-year-old to see TobyMac (Christian Hip-Hop performer) in concert. That was a tremendous gift to me to have hours of time free to have dinner with a friend. Part way through the concert, Mr. Ornery called my cell phone and asked permission to buy ball caps. About an hour later, my sister texted, “Mr. Ornery got you a sponsor child. I can give it back. LOL”  “No, keep it,” I replied. The fact that Mr. Ornery thought about sponsoring a child warmed my heart. He was so excited about the packet when he brought it home. “Look, Mom, a girl name Yvonne. It says she lives in Rwanda. Can we send her $50 a month?” “Yes.” “Great, can we send her $80 a month?”…

I’ve been reflecting a bit that I grew up in a “giving” household. My parents were missionaries in Thailand while I was a young girl. I watched them every day give of their time and of their money and of their material things. I learned from my family, from my church, and from my friends to be a “giving” person. I began to wonder how much my boys see of that “giving” nature in me. I’ve done quite a bit of donating time in starting up a nonprofit crisis nursery and I try to point out to the boys that I’m “giving” my time now in meetings to help keep it running smoothly. And they see me giving to the offering plate at church and to the people along the side of the road when we’re downtown.

But they don’t often see the “giving” in terms of sharing with others via monthly monetary support. So I decided that our house needed a “Giving Tree” where we can share and celebrate the opportunity to be able to give to others.

On our tree, we have the sponsored girls giving treefrom Guatemala and now from Rwanda (through Food for the Hungry). We have a picture of our church and will add a picture of a dear friend who works in campus ministry. We also need a picture of me running the marathon relay as a way to raise money for work in Haiti through Haiti H2O. And I’ll grab a photo of the boys when they share Easter eggs with residents of a nearby nursing home next week.

My hope is that this becomes a dynamic, changing and ever-growing tree. My hope is that the boys develop an ever-growing awareness of the blessings in their lives and the call upon all of us to give and share with those who have less than us.

My hope is that I can keep looking for those tiny glimpses of the boys’ giving nature and help that blossom further, deeper and more beautifully.

Tumbling Down the Black Hole

“Happy Home-versary”

It’s been three months since we bought a house and one of the experiences in moving to a new house and a new neighborhood is getting the lay of the land of the neighbors. It’s a bit of a challenge in the winter when most people stay inside and pop in and out of their houses via cars in garages. But every once in awhile we would get a 50-degree day and I would have a slightly longer walk with the dog that gave an opportunity to meet some neighbors. They have all been delightful (except the ones in the houses behind our steep sloping back yard. Apparently, they are not interested in boys on sleds careening past their trees….). I have been deligently trying to take notes in my “house” notebook of who lives where so I can remember names and some details (because….you know, I’m older now 😊).

It has also taken some time to discover where other kids live. We came from a townhome community filled with kids who were outside no matter what the weather in a little “gang of boys”!  When we moved, we knew our friends at the entrance to the neighborhood and we knew of a few more kids by name, but it has been a slow adventure of learning who lives nearby. Just two weeks ago we met a 7th grader who has excitedly been over five times now to play Nerf guns with Mr. Ornery.

For a few days, the 7th grader has been on our lawn waiting for the boys to come home from school. I told him that the younger set had not gotten off the bus yet, but would be doing so on the same bus as his sister. As we sat down to dinner, there he was ringing the doorbell. I said to Mr. Ornery as he jumped up from the table, “Tell him we’re eating and you will play in a little bit.”

The Little Guy ran back from the front door yelling, “Mr. Ornery gave that boy our garage door combination!!”  I know what he was thinking. The boy could open the garage and grab some Nerf guns to play while he waited for us to finish dinner. What I was thinking though was – you just gave someone we barely know the key to our house!!!

That would be one issue to deal with, but the guilty look on Mr. Ornery’s face as he returned to the table and started desperately covering himself was the bigger issue.

“I totally did not give him the combination.”

“Wait, let me go check and see if the garage door is open.”

“I didn’t say that to him.”

“So, tell me….which one of you boys is lying to me?” knowing full well what was going down. But really, I was just stalling for time….until….you got it, there goes the garage door. The neighbor had made it around to the back of the house. Busted!

Thus ensued the long and passionate one-sided conversation that often spews from a parent’s mouth about the young’un’s clear lapse in judgment, the violation of trust, the breach of safety, the shock that the kid could possibly lie to his own dear mother.

The Little Guy and my nephew sat quietly through the tirade. Mr. Ornery knew he was trapped. I got up from the table and sent the neighbor boy home with deep apologies for “having a hard time with my boy.” And then I continued the oft-repeated soliloquy of not sharing family passcodes or secrets and the consequences of not obeying one’s mother and of toppling down the black hole of lies.

I haven’t figured out the magic of getting the boys to tell the truth. It’s clear that along with moving into a house that has a great deal of space to spread out, we also managed to purchase a house that came with it’s own House Elf. If I’m ever crazy enough to ask “Who did….?”, I already know it was the House Elf.  He’s the one that put a hole in the wall. He’s the one that leaves the door from the basement to the garage open ALL the time (in the winter!!).  He’s most likely the one that scratch the newly polished hard wood floors. He usually throws his candy wrappers over the back of the couch (where the blind lays that he broke). And he’s almost always the one that leaves Nerf darts littered all over the neighbor’s yard.  He’s a bit of a problem. 

I’m going to have to catch that Elf.

But first I need to go change the code to the garage….

And remind Mr. Ornery that black holes have pretty serious consequences!

 

Time to be Less busy and Restart the “Welcome Wagon”

K gave me a tight hug as her eyes teared up. “I didn’t know people did this anymore,” she spoke as I handed her a slightly still-warm pan of chicken broccoli casserole. The recipe was hastily written on the top along with my name and phone number and the names and ages of the boys. “I forgot to include the dog,” I said with a smile.

I had noticed the moving truck when I got home from work earlier that day. Scanning my cupboards and fridge, the only meal I could think of putting together was this comfort-food casserole, though it had sadly been so long since I had last made it, that the recipe had faded from my brain. But I had just been in her situation three weeks ago. My mind was stretched beyond belief trying to make sure I had moved over the Christmas presents and knew where they were. Making sure I had the tree up and slightly decorated again. Making sure everyone had at least a couple outfits to wear. Making sure the boys had “nice” clothes to wear at Christmas Eve service when the two youngest were doing the reading from the book of Luke. Helping my sister tear up carpet, sweep and mop sanded floors, clean up a house while still packing up the last one before the truck came. A week in, all I wanted was a home-cooked meal. I was tired of delivered pizza and Chinese take-out. I had shared cookies from our Cookie Day baking with the neighbors on either side and across from me whom I had met. But I just wanted “real” food.

And so that it what I wanted to take to the new neighbors. I also really wanted to have some great little gifts like my sister and friends brought me on my first day of moving – bottles of hand soap and hand towels for the bathroom, sponges, and Chlorox wipes. Wouldn’t it be lovely, I thought, if I had some of those around that weren’t used yet (from all my cleaning the past couple weeks) and I could make up a little basket or bag to take along with a meal to the new neighbor? Wouldn’t it have been nice, I thought when I got home, if I had remembered to take a bottle of wine over with the meal, as her words continued to dance through my head: “Thank you so much. It’s been a really trying day.”

I know, I thought. I know. It’s not just the physical exhaustion but the mental toll that hits you in those days of moving. It’s one of the top stressors of life, even if it is a really positive thing in the end.

The next day, one of my neighbors brownies neighbor2whom I hadn’t met yet from across the street stopped over with a plate of warm brownies. Like the neighbor next door, when she returned my cookie plate, she had written her name and number on a piece of paper which I have tucked into my “new house” notebook. It was wonderful to be genuinely welcomed and to be told, “Call me anytime if you need anything.” Certainly so many of the neighbors have called out, “Welcome to the neighborhood” and told me about all the things they love about the neighborhood. And so far, the three neighbors who are clearly retired and whose houses surround mine have all said, “It’s so nice to hear kids playing outside again.” (Meanwhile, I say to myself – oh, just you wait for the weather to break. Let’s see how long that “noise” is “nice”!)

The reason I felt pulled to this neighborhood was that a friend of my middle son lived near the entrance to the “no outlet” essentially-two-street community. My friendship with his parents was growing and I just knew it could be a beautiful opportunity to live nearby. I know it’s hard to move right at Christmas time and in the middle of winter because most of the neighborhood tucks in and stays inside as the snow flies. But I’m looking forward to meeting the neighbors as the days lengthen and warm up (and maybe winning over the guy who lives behind the house and apparently is VERY protective of his pine trees from the evils of boys’ snow sleds….). I’m looking forward to putting some furniture on the front porch and planting myself there as much as possible to say hi to Pippin and Fergie and Gunnar and Millie and any other dog who pulls their owner past the house. (I might also be doing some glaring at those who want to speed just a little up the hill because they will likely encounter scooters, and fat boy bikes, and ramps, and hoverboards, and Nerf guns and kids all over the road!)

And, I’m particularly looking forward to making up a couple little gift baskets of cleaning supplies and wine and throwing together a little meal for the next people who move into the neighborhood – because it’s time to bring back the Welcome Wagon. Just tell me where the moving truck is. I think I got this now.

When Newness brings Peace

“And the peace of God which transcends all understanding….” (Phil 4:7)

There certainly was very little Peace and Quiet over this Christmas break despite the typical expectation of such. This year we moved to a house after living in a cramped, tiny townhome for the past 3 years. The older two had their own bedrooms, but the youngest slept in my bedroom. The TV was on one side of the “living” room space and the couch on the opposite side so the great joy in annoying the eldest was to cross in front of the TV multiple times…or just pretend to forget and stand there. The kitchen was tiny and I couldn’t stand to have a kid in there with me whenever I tried to cook anything on the non-existent counter-space. There was no garage, no basement, no storage area.

But there was an outside. There was an open green space with playground equipment that hardly anyone used if they were over five. And there was a glorious double-bump hillside that made perfect sledding conditions (perfect because the boys could thump over in their boots and I could stay in my warm abode!). And there were kids. Kids who also liked to play outside. Kids who knocked on the door at 8:30 on a Saturday morning. Kids who knocked at 8:00 pm on a school night. Kids that thrived on my boys’ energy and creativity. Kids who were great friends.

So the Saturday before Christmas, I moved over as many boxes as I could pack in the car with supplies to host our first “Cookie Day.” Many friends came out and we baked for hours (despite a nasty cold), creating 56 dozen cookies as the one oven browned sheet after sheet of dough. Sunday and Monday we packed and carted boxes. We cleaned some parts of the new house and some of the old. My sister tore up carpet and sanded two hardwood floors. And Christmas day after the excitement of gifts and a quick meal, we put polyurethane on the floors and opened all the windows. And when the moving trucks pulled out, my wonderful brother drove in from Ohio with two of his older daughters to finish up moving all the odds and ends.

It’s been anything but restful. Anything but quiet. But there has been a remarkable peace that has descended on the family. Christmas Eve I sent the boys down to the basement (“game room,” “man cave,” “den”…we haven’t settled on a name yet!) and I set up their rooms with beds and new blankets and put some select pieces of their school artwork (which I just framed the week before Christmas) on the floor as I didn’t have the tools or the energy to work on hanging them. I had name signs for each room. And The Little Guy jump around in his room with such joy and excitement to have his own space for the first time in his life.

Space. There’s now space for the boys to get away from each other to rest. There’s space in the kitchen (bless my mom and a couple great friends who helped clean and set it up) for me to experience joy and peace in preparing meals for the boys (I got tired of pizza and take-out pretty quickly!). There’s space to put the new hoverboards and electric scooters in the shed and the hand-me-down dirt bike that Mr. Ornery managed to fiddle with enough to get it working. There’s space to breathe and breathing feels very good.

And after three years, there’s a sense of settling and permanency. My brain is no longer searching and searching for the right house, the right location, the right school. It’s not perfect. I really intended to get a MUCH bigger yard for the boys, but it’s got great indoor space and a quiet flat road in front for their craziness.

I am so grateful for everyone who helped physically and emotionally with encouraging texts and messages and Facebook comments. There’s still much to do. I haven’t finished cleaning up the new place yet and there’s boxes upon boxes in “storage” at my sister’s and parents’ houses that need to move over.  But, a longtime friend said to me recently, “It’s so great to see how much you are enjoying that beautiful new home of yours.” And he’s right.

I’ve actually caught Super Tall Guy with smiles on his face!