Taking Care of Me

In the selfishness of my heart, I could picture it — somebody taking care of me.

Fixing all my meals.

Bringing me the foods I like.

Tending to my needs.

Like a cruise ship — without the cruise or all the people.

Being a mom and a caregiver is exhausting at times.

I suppose it doesn’t seem like anything too difficult. How hard is it to fix tomato soup and a grilled cheese sandwich every day?

Or to do laundry.

Or take out the garbage.

The monotony of it could tend towards boredom. Kathleen Norris, in her must-read book Acedia & Me, said,

Might we consider boredom as not only necessary for our life but also as one of its greatest blessings? A gift, pure and simple, a precious chance to be alone with our thoughts and alone with God?

She reminded me of why I am so suited for this job.

While washing the dishes, most of the time I am quite alone with my thoughts and with God. I am running through the scripture I’m memorizing or praying for family and friends. When a family member joins me to dry the dishes, it is a special delight.

The truth is — a cruise has never appealed to me. All that basking in the sun and eating rich foods and drinking fancy drinks.

Okay, the sun part sounds good.

But the lush extravagance doesn’t.

I’d rather be repotting plants.

Or weeding the myrtle.

Or taking out the garbage.

img_1154Yes, I find satisfaction in dragging the big garbage can to the end of the driveway for the garbage man to pick up. Today, I’ll clear a swathe of snow as I do it and walk back to the house in the path cleared by the can. Later, I’ll carry the much lighter can back to the house and put a fresh clean bag in it for the new week.

The other day though, in the grumblings of my heart, I wished someone would take care of me. In a flash I saw it — lying in a bed in a nursing home, having to be turned to prevent bed-sores, having someone spoon the food into my mouth all the while talking with a co-worker about the weekend past or the weekend ahead, having someone choose what I was to wear and dressing me in it.

I shuddered.


I take it all back. I don’t want someone to take care of me.

I’m fine, thank you.

And so very thankful to be able-bodied and independent.


Pursuing Dreams

I remember when Sam learned that he had arthritis.

He had been struggling with shoulder pain and gone for treatment for tendonitis, a common problem for swimmers. He couldn’t lift his arms over his head and the physical therapist commented that he was like an old man.

Fortunately, someone recognized that Sam had a bigger issue than tendonitis — a “more global problem” is how they put it.

After running a bunch of tests, they gave him the life sentence — psoriatic arthritis.

“What am I going to do?” he asked. “I won’t be able to do the things I love.”

By that he meant climbing, paddling, skiing and all sorts of other outdoor activities. Sam was tempted to throw in the towel.

His rheumatologist looked him in the eye and said, “It doesn’t mean that at all.” He encouraged Sam to pursue his dreams.

And Sam did.

That was ten years ago.

The first time we went to British Columbia, I knew Sam would thrive there.self-in-bc

img_0553Honestly, I wasn’t surprised when he wanted to make it his home.

And found a lovely Canadian woman to marry.

When Sam was home at Christmas, he mentioned going to “physio” — that’s Canadian for physical therapy. He works at a canoe and kayak store, and has recently been having trouble lifting boats over his head.

Instead of giving up, he’s working (again) at strengthening those shoulders.

Professional golfer Phil Mickelson is the poster boy for psoriatic arthritis.

I think Sam should be — his story is more inspiring.

To me, anyway.

But I may be biased.


A to Z Blogging Challenge


A few weeks ago I babysat my grandson and got to change his diaper.

When I first became the mother to a little boy, my mother had warned me to not leave a boy uncovered too long. Beware the fountain of youth. You know.

Even with that sage advice, my oldest son squirted me right in the face shortly after I brought him home from the hospital. I learned to get everything ready before the big reveal so I could be quick and cover it up in a jiffy if I needed.

With my grandson, I was prepared. I had my method down. Get the wipes ready. Unfold the new diaper. Take a deep breath, then take off the wet diaper.

Of course, he nailed me. In spite of. And laughing all the while.

I think this ritual of male creatures marking their territory starts very young.

PICT0853Cleaning bodily fluids is the yuck of motherhood.

Changing diapers.

Wiping noses.

Cleaning vomit.

Dressing battle wounds of wars fought with siblings or sidewalks.

It’s in those most intimate, personal, yucky moments that love takes root and grows.

My friend’s house became a crime scene when her husband was murdered there. A group of women went to the house and scrubbed the blood off the floor. Men patched the bullet holes in the wall. Cleaning the yuck became an act of love.

Jesus washed His disciples’ dirty feet on the night He was betrayed.

And Joseph of Arimathea wrapped His body — head bloody from the crown of thorns, hands and feet pierced by nails, his side opened with a spear — Joseph wrapped that bloody body in a linen cloth and laid him in a tomb.

The yuck of love.

In more ways than one.

Caring for aging parents is such a privilege. Laundering soiled garments, gently bathing fragile folds of flesh, cleaning unmentionables, because, you know, we are cultured and couth.

Those are the sacramental moments of life.

The farmers have been spreading the manure on the nearby fields this week. The aroma fills the air. Yuck.

But when the alfalfa grows, lush and green, nutrient rich because of the timely application of poo — we forget the yuck.

So it is with children.

And aging parents.



A to Z Blogging Challenge


Laurel has been practicing cracking an egg with one hand — with these:IMG_8539

“Please can I try it with a real egg?” she begged the other night.

“No,” I replied. I was tired and the likelihood of having to clean up an egg mess was unappealing.

“But, look,” she said, holding a green egg in one hand, “I can do it,” and she neatly opened the empty egg.

“No,” I said again. “Do it in the morning when I have more energy.”

“But I’m not going to make a mess,” she insisted. “And I’ll clean it up if I do.”

“No,” I said one last time.

The truth is I had gotten sad the day before when I was making waffles for my father. I had used the recipe my mother used to use.

But it calls for separating the eggs.

Every time I do it, whether I’m using the separator, the shell, or my hand, I start thinking about my mom.

She taught me to cook — to level off the flour in the dry measuring cup, to get eye-level with the measuring cup when measuring liquids, and to crack the egg with a sharp rap using the back side of a knife. She taught me to pull the eggshell apart with my thumbs. She taught me to always put the egg into a separate dish before adding it to whatever I was cooking — we had our own chickens, and sometimes what came out of the egg was an unpleasant surprise. She taught me to get the last bit of white out of the shell with a quick swipe of my forefinger. She taught me to separate eggs, not allowing any yolk into the white because if I did the white couldn’t be beaten to stiff peaks no matter how hard I tried.

When her dementia robbed her of her cooking ability, she was so lost. No more cooking for a crowd. No more delicious soups where she put something akin to magic in the pot. No more casseroles.

Food was whittled down to marmalade. On everything.

But I can still eat marmalade.

IMG_6067There’s just something about eggs. They make me think of her.

An egg is both strong and fragile.

It is life.

And hope.

An egg is three-in-one, like God.

But the word “egg” only appears once in the Bible.

Somehow, for me, an egg inextricably connects mother to daughter.

It is a mystery — a pearly, porcelain, alabaster mystery.

Today, I’ll let Laurel try cracking that egg with one hand. Success or failure, we’ll laugh and then figure out what to do with the eggs she opens.

Maybe someday she’ll look at an egg and think of me.


Best Numbers and Peas

“Hey, Mom, do you know what the best number is?”

Karl asked this at dinner because we were discussing numbers.

For the record, I did not know what the best number was, nor did I even know there was a best number.

I mean, I do have a soft spot for primes and squares. Doesn’t everybody?

But I don’t have a favorite number.

And I didn’t know there was a best number.

The discussion had started with the number four.  I don’t remember who said it, but someone brought up the fact that four is considered unlucky in certain countries like Korea or China.

“It’s like thirteen in this country,” I said, “but I don’t think thirteen is that bad. It is, after all, prime.”

That’s when Karl asked the best number question.

“Seven?” Bud guessed.

A lot of people really like seven. It’s a prime. And considered lucky.

“Nope,” Karl answered. “But it has a seven in it.”

I started mentally running through the numbers ending with seven. “Seventeen?” I guessed.


I knew it couldn’t be twenty-seven. It is a cube number which makes it interesting, but not the best.

“Thirty-seven?” I guessed.

“It’s seventy-three,” Karl said. “It’s the twenty-first prime and the mirror of thirty-seven which is the twelfth prime. Twelve and twenty-one are mirrors.”

Kind of cool. For someone who likes prime numbers. And symmetry.

How we got from there to spitting peas I don’t know.

Laurel and Karl
Laurel and Karl

Really. The next thing I knew Karl was challenging Laurel to a pea-spitting contest.

They each took a few peas from their dinner plate and headed to the back deck to see who could spit them farther.

“Mom,” Mary pleaded, “they’re spitting peas.”

“I know,” I said, “but Karl leaves for college soon.”

Would I have allowed this years ago when Philip was heading off to college? Probably not.

But I’ve learned.

At the end of the day, the things we remember aren’t the quirky discussions of numbers but the spitting of peas and the accompanying laughter.

I so want my children to look back at their growing up years and be able to laugh.



Karl placed 2nd in Class C tennis doubles at sectionals. SECOND!

A great finish for my soccer-playing boy and his soccer-playing partner.

Karl and Michael
Karl and Michael
Sectionals at Camp Starlight
Sectionals at Camp Starlight

Last week, we had spent a sunshiny day on a Pennsylvania mountain for round one of sectionals. That was the day both Karl and I forgot sunscreen, but I had the luxury of sitting in the shade while he and his partner bobbed and weaved on a full sun court, easily winning all three matches. He was sun-burned, but moving on.

Sectional finals took place on indoor courts. He and Michael won their first match there less easily. Their opponents played in cargo shorts and won the first game. You can’t judge a tennis player by their shorts.

Karl and Michael won the match, though, and advanced to the championship.

Wow, I thought. Could he and Michael possibly be sectional champions?

The first serve by the kid in the backwards hat put a crack in that dream. Whoosh! I barely saw the ball.

Karl started laughing.


The server switched sides.  Karl stepped forward, while Michael moved into position to receive the next serve. The dance of doubles tennis.

Whoosh! Michael just shook his head.


Karl at the tennis center

Karl was better prepared for the next serve. He changed where he stood and crouched in readiness.

Whoosh!  The first serve hit the net. The second serve lobbed over for an easy return.  After a few back-and-forths, the server got his racket on the ball and smashed it into a far corner.


Michael was ready for his next serve.  When it came directly at him, he put up his racket defensively.  The ball bounced back to the opponents’ side and they had a short volley which ended in a point for Karl and Michael.


One more serve at Karl. Once again he was crouched and ready. Once more the gold sphere flew.


I watched Karl as they changed sides of the net. He was smiling and laughing. Part of him was enjoying this crazy game of tennis where he ultimately lost the match 6-1, 6-1.

As I told my father about it the next day, he said, “It’s a good thing he can laugh about it.”

Yes, it was. I had watched other players angrily whack their rackets into the padded walls in frustration. I watched them scowl and get angry. I wondered if any of them knew who John McEnroe was — masterful at tennis, but also masterful at the tennis tantrum.

Last night Karl said, “Somebody at school asked me why we lost so badly. I told him that he hadn’t seen that kid’s serve. No matter where I stood, he got it past me.”

And Karl was still laughing about it.

Laughter is sometimes the closest thing we have to grace.

Thankful for my son.

A to Z Blogging Challenge


O is for Obscurity.

At Laity Lodge -- Jill is on the right.
At Laity Lodge — Jill is on the right. (I’m leaving the others in obscurity for now.)

Jill Phillips gave a devotion one morning at Laity Lodge and spoke about the book Forgotten Among the Lilies by Ron Rolheiser, a Catholic theologian.

Rolheiser talks about “The Martyrdom of Obscurity”, saying that ordinary life is enough.

The human heart is full of longings — but Rolheiser says that longing is our spiritual lot.

Today we are called as Christians to the martyrdom of obscurity. Christianity always invites its adherents to martyrdom. To be a follower of Christ demands that one lay down one’s life. But this takes various forms. … In our culture meaningful self-expression is everything; lack of it is death. Yet it is this death that paschally we must enter.


That stops me every time I read it.

Ordinary life is enough.

Yes, enough.

To live in a small town and attend a small church.

To grow green beans in my garden.

To color pictures with crayons with my children.

To watch a high school tennis match or an age-group swim meet.

To make macaroni and cheese for dinner — again.

To fold towels and clean toilets and wash dishes and sweep up the dog hair on the floor.

To be Niggle, in Leaf by Niggle, and have one leaf to show at the end of my life, because I helped my neighbor and put aside my longings for more.

All these things are enough.

To live in obscurity is not such a bad thing.

Indeed, it may be the best thing.

A to Z Blogging Challenge


Reading at LaGuardia

N is for Niggle, the main character in Leaf by Niggle, a short story by J. R. R. Tolkien.

Recommended reading for the retreat at Laity Lodge, I read it on my way there. At LaGuardia.

I’ve always loved the word “niggle”. Niggles are those gentle proddings — not nagging, just nudging.  They are the post-it notes hanging in the back of your mind to remind you of something you should do.

And such is the main character of the story. Niggle is an artist so caught up in his work that he doesn’t always want to do the things he should, like preparing for his journey, because he would rather finish the tree he is painting.

But he stops to help his neighbor, albeit a little begrudgingly, because

He was kindhearted, in a way. You know the sort of kind heart: it made him uncomfortable more often than it made him do anything; and even when he did anything, it did not prevent him from grumbling, losing his temper and swearing (mostly to himself).

Ralph Wood, in one of his talks on Tolkien at Laity Lodge, said this, “It is extremely difficult to be an artist and a parent.”

How well I know that! For years whenever I would sit down to write, or even think, and I would be interrupted to tend to someone else.  Most of my children are grown now, so it happens rarely — and, truth be told, long ago I learned to embrace Henri Nouwen’s sentiment that my interruptions are my work.

Niggle, though, represents that tension — between creating and tending to the mundane, between painting and fixing the roof, between art and helping a neighbor in need.

The most important job I have ever been given was being a parent.  If I had to choose between writing and parenting, parenting would win easily.

These days, it’s the writing part that niggles at me.

Funny how that works.