Uncovering Imagination (in the post-dora age)

When Ruthie was just two months old, Bryan and I coordinated a babysitting co-op with friends. Every other week we would go on a date and have free babysitting, and on the opposite weeks it would be our turn to babysit. Various families have been a part of this co-op in the past, but for the last two years (at least) we’ve been trading with the same family, so our kids have grown very attached to each other. No more fussing at goodbyes, no more anxiety at bedtime – every Saturday is like a slumber party now, and we are literally pushed out the door by our kids.

One of the things I have loved about their time playing together, is the way their children influence ours. My children influence other children in the ways mothers whisper about when they hear you are invited to the same party. But these kids? They encourage my children to explore their imagination.

I walked into the room one night to find Ruthie and Olivia buried under a pile of blankets, then watched them dramatically stretch out from under the pile as they ‘hatched’ like chicks coming out of an egg. This moment was the first seed planted in our eventual decision to cut ourselves off from 642 HD channels, as Olivia and her siblings don’t watch conventional t.v., but enjoy a variety of videos from the library that teach them new and interesting things. My daughter previously had no idea where baby birds came from, and suddenly she was hatching like one – learning in community.

On another occasion this summer, during a daytime play date over lunch, I walked into Olivia’s room to find them performing ‘puppet’ shows for each other. It was beautiful and silly and creative, and it made me jealous that I am not a child anymore. I am so glad we don’t have cable anymore (shut up, Bryan), because I am looking forward to more moments like these:

If you thought the drunk blogging debacle was bad, you should have seen all the LUSTING tonight.

I will not name any names to preserve the integrity of all participants, but several desperate housewives gathered in my basement tonight for a big screen HD viewing of Justin Timberlake’s FutureSex/LoveShow on HBO.

O-my-ga. The man has some moves.

One of my friends came downstairs at one point and said, “There was a huge streak of lightening outside!”

“That’s God trying to find me right now!” shouted another as she fanned her lusting eyes.

Writer’s Workshop: Compelling Non Fiction

I was invited by my friend Julie to attend a writer’s workshop tonight on Bainbridge Island (put on by Field’s End), where I enjoyed a taste of small town quaintness. We packed into a little room in the library – where suspendered old men shuffled noisily about the room as they refilled their coffee cups – to hear Jim Whiting speak on writing compelling non-fiction. Jim mostly covered the topic of Lead-Ins – those ways we grab the readers’ attention and keep them reading. He also covered elements of editing, such as transitions, rhythm, layout, and sentence structure.

What I came away with in the discussion that followed the hour long lecture, is that historical, factual, or biographical accounts need not be dry and boring. Even though we are not writing something that is invented, we are still telling a story, and we have an obligation to be good storytellers.

I think about this often in my writing, especially as it pertains to moving out of the blogosphere and into the print market. Blogs tend to have cult followings. I know my faithful readers (well, the COMMENTERS, anyway), and I know why they keep coming back. But when I think about venturing into the wild blue yonder of book publishing, I shrink in self-consciousness, wondering why on earth anyone would care what I had to say.

But then I attend a workshop like this one, and I am reminded that there are bad ways to tell a story, there are good ways to tell a story, and there are great ways to tell a story. If I am a great writer, and tell a great story, others will be drawn into my narrative. The things I struggle with and write about are universal – anger, depression, parenting, friendships, marriage, etc. If my storytelling is compelling, and relevant, and filled with perspective, it will not be boring.

The idea of perspective is what I had always missed in my writing when I was younger. I was a Just The Facts girl – struggling to put events into chronological order and worrying about time lines. You all are lucky I am not writing an autobiography that begins, I was born in 1971 to parents who blah blah blah.

Or perhaps you would not continue coming back to This Pile if that’s how I wrote.

I think sometimes the facts aren’t always the important thing when telling a story. I’m not suggesting we lie about what actually happened, as in the case of James Frey’s A Million Little Pieces, (which came up in tonight’s discussion). Only that in telling a story of historical or factual significance, we are adding our own perspective, our own observations, our own interpretation of experiences. A good writer can write about making cookies with her mother and eloquently describe the fact of baking cookies, but a great writer can use the element of baking cookies with her mother to draw the reader in to a complex mother/child relationship.

(I made that cookie making thing up all by myself – was that great writing?)

As an example, one of the ladies in the room spoke about her sister having a completely different perspective on their childhood that she did, and she wondered what the truth would be if they each wrote her own account of growing up. And to me the answer is… EXACTLY, because each would write from her own perspective and her own experience.

It was a very enjoyable evening – bookended by relaxing ferry rides, and made complete by a pinkish sunset and the smell of the salty Sound. It was also a great boost to a lull in my writing motivation, so THANKS JULIE! I look forward to more lectures in the series.

Family Reunion

This weekend Bryan and I participated in a training conference that brought together people we hadn’t seen in years, and I was able to catch up with friends from back in The Day. My weekend was full of deep, rich, fifteen-minute catch-up conversations.

What struck me the most was the vivid transformation of so many friends – women I was close to, as one friend put it, during such a pivotal time in our lives as we contemplated marriage and babies and other life altering decisions – women, who have now grown, and been broken, and rebuilt, and are so different than I remember, yet so familiar. It felt like such a celebration of God’s grace and mercy, and served as another reminder that God does not leave us in one place, that I will not always be where I am right now.

I was also encouraged to hear that so many of these women have been transformed while serving in leadership roles – that there is no illusion of perfection among the leadership of this community, that humility and brokenness is a welcomed part of ministry within the church.

The culture of hope within the community was downright infectious!

Gettin’ Scrappy

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My girlfriend, Sarah, has been coming over on the Monday nights that Bryan is out of town, and we scrapbook together. When Ruthie was a baby I made scrapbook pages throughout her whole first year, and filled a second scrapbook of other family fun stuff. But by the time Thomas came along I was deep into writing and blogging and creating videos, and decided I only had space in my brain for only one hobby at a time.

I have missed scrapbooking, though, for the tactile nature of it, and for the fun of designing with color and image. So once I got my craft area set up in the basement I decided to give it a go again, only on a much leaner time commitment – one evening every other week.

It’s funny to watch Sarah scrap, too. She held out for the longest time, swearing she would never get into such a thing, that it was cliche for moms to scrap. But oh how I laughed when she showed up at my house with scads of paper and embellishments and tools, all neatly tucked into pretty organizers. I love it when the mighty fall.

Ever since I took these pictures of the kids drinking hot chocolate during the SNOW BLAST OF 2007, I envisioned a page like this, and it makes me happy to have created it.

The Paragon

Last night Larah and I went to The Paragon in downtown San Jose, a sleek lounge with clean lines and simple design. Their specialty is their extensive vodka bar, and I tried their Chocolate Martini which contained vanilla vodka and dutch chocolate creme. It was a yummy, smooth drink, but a bit sweet for my taste. For it to be my ‘gotta-have’ drink, I prefer the taste of dark espresso and bitter chocolates. We shared a bread pudding, though, and it was TO DIE FOR. It contained warm bananas and walnuts and some sort of liquor sauce.

Click here for photos.

Getting Connected

One of the things I was looking forward to while staying in the San Jose area is seeing a few friends who live here. When Bryan’s contract here began a year ago we knew that one day he would bring us with him on a trip, and the kids and I would have some fun doing The Tourist Thing while he worked. But a pleasant surprise developed – a good friend of mine from college, who had been living far away for several years, recently moved to San Jose with her husband.

So during our stay we have enjoyed the company of my friend, Larah, on many occasions. We’ve been to the Children’s Discovery Museum together and the Monterey Aquarium together, and later in the trip we plan to have some girl time as well. We’ve had a great time talking and catching up in great detail about what we’ve been doing and how life has been since we last lived together.

I also had the pleasure of having a park play date with my blogging friend, Kristin, whom I first met at BlogHer when we had lunch together with another set of Jens and Kristins. It was the first cool and cloudy day of our stay here and Kristin nearly chickened out on the park, but I convinced her that fun can happen even when the sun is hiding! Meeting at the park was perfect – it was enclosed by a fence so there was no need to chase a rogue toddler, and we were able to have nearly two hours of scathing conversation (which I shall not repeat here!). We also got to meet some of Kristin’s park friends and the children they brought with them. I was inspired by the simplicity of visiting the park every day, and will maybe not be able to do that in rainy Seattle, but building in a routine of library trips and the like is in order, I think.

Maryam and I also had some great time together (as always) shopping at the Stanford Mall and eating dinner at PF Chang’s, which has turned out to be a recurring destination for our get-togethers! Our conversation rolled effortlessly from serious to creative to funny, and I look forward to seeing her again at Northern Voice.

Internet Blessings

This holiday season I was blessed with a few gifts from blogging friends – gestures that took me completely by surprise, and blessed me in oh so many ways. It is one of the joys I have experienced from writing here at The Pile I’m Standing In – the community of friendships from afar, like modern day pen pals.

I have enjoyed reading Dacia’s blog, following her many ‘swaps’ with other crafting bloggers around the nation. I was blessed by one of Dacia’s packages last spring, sent from her former home in Connecticut, and was blessed again this New Year’s weekend by a lavender sachet given to me the night she and her hubby and other friends came over to play games.

It sounds like so much fun to give and receive, blessing other people by sharing things that you love. I often have good intentions, and even get as far as collecting items and boxing them up. Birthday cards are signed, sealed, and addressed. But far too often the package or card sits on top of my piano, waiting for a trip to the post office (which is three blocks walking distance, by the way, so I’m not even hindered by it being another errand), until the occasion is so far belated that I might as well wait until next year.

This past fall I finally got my act together enough to send out a package to Kristin – an old outfit of Ruthie’s that I thought she would like for The Boy. It was a crack-up for both of us, as we share the connection of raising a maniacal child (in addition to the love of Drink). It felt good to give, to share, to follow through on good intentions. One of my ‘aims’ this year (not a ‘resolution,’ as the ladies and I recently discussed – more on that later), is to live generously. This refers to not only financial and material generosity, but mostly to being kind and sacrificial at the core of my being.

I’m constantly amazed at how the Spirit can move one person to bless another, and how the gesture can become so much more significant than the giver could have even imagined. The Friday before Christmas I received a package from Kristin containing the beautiful art of Jen Lemen that I have been drooling over both on her website and at her new Etsy store. That was a bad week for me emotionally, and I was discouraged at having lost my temper with the kids too many times. (I never blogged about it, though, because who wants to hear about THAT the week before Christmas?) The pieces Kristin sent to me, Soul Storm and Peace, were HUGELY encouraging to me at the end of that very bad week.

And finally, last week I received a mysterious package in the mail from Redmond, Washington. The name was mostly unfamiliar to me, until I remembered exchanging emails with one of my readers named Leah. And sure enough, it was her! She sent me this FANTASTIC little book of her favorite cocktail recipes, including the Jitterbug Martini that I have raved about many times. And I kid you not, but I was actually JUST talking to Bryan about wanting to try out new cocktails with all the liquor I currently have on hand (more on that later). The Lord moves in mysterious ways, hallelujah.

So, thank you, everyone – not only for giving, but for blessing me with your example of blessing others. I pray it is contagious!

The Christmas Wrap

We had a great Christmas Eve with my family, and a relaxing Christmas Day at home. It was fun to see the kids really getting into it this year, and I love to see them connecting with their grandparents.

I think the highlight of the weekend was when we ‘called’ Bryan’s mom on the new computer we bought her (via Sightspeed and a webcam), and she was able to see her grandchildren for the first time in a year. At first she didn’t get it, and thought she was watching a video. And when she realized she was actually having a conversation with us, I think she was a little choked up. It was a very festive occassion, and I know Bryan was very proud to be able to do that for his mom.

I’ll be off line for the next few days as I am running away from home with my good friend, Sarah. She has been my friend longer than anybody else I know (sixteen years!), and we have been on many adventures together. We swore that even after we were married with children we would still break away for ‘free-spirited’ weekends, and only now are we finally making it happen for the first time.

Ciao, everyone!

Birthdays and Weddings

This was a weekend for celebrating! On Friday night I took Bryan to a local men’s spa for a pedicure and massage as a gift for his birthday. It was a well-deserved respite from the stress of his work and all his efforts to keep our household afloat. He was so relaxed after the experience that he was a little heavy-lidded at dinner, and by the time we reached the car he was a drunken slur of words, incapable of telling me where the parking voucher was. Imagine trying to talk with your mouth full of cotton balls and your tongue numbed with Novocain – that’s what Bryan sounded like by the end of the night, and I gave him such a hard time over it that we both erupted into smoker-cough-sounding, pee-inducing laughter.

Laughing with your husband is great therapy.

Happy Birthday, Bryan! And don’t worry, 37 is the new 29.

Then on Saturday we attended what Robert Scoble is calling the Geek Wedding of the Decade – the union of Chris and Ponzi. Ironically, I was invited because Ponzi and I became friends through the Diva’s Book Club, but Bryan knew most of the people there because he actually works in the tech industry.

As I make my way around the tech circuit, though – both on my own at Blogher and Mindcamp, and with Bryan when I accompany him to events and dinners – I am running across the same familiar and friendly faces. It was fun to catch up with Nancy again, and Liz (formerly a Diva before returning to NY), and Julie (who looked AMAZING), and Matt (who I met at a Gnomedex dinner and he introduced me to the last.fm feed you see in my sidebar), and Cathia, and Kim(a Diva who I first met at the Naked Conversations book release party when she told me she was studying Computational Genetics and I thought to myself, ‘that is a far cry from the day I spent finger painting’), and Beth Grigg (who has hosted our family for dinner in her home), and Maryam, who first introduced me to the wonderful Divas.

The music was beautiful, the dresses and flowers were beautiful, the ceremony was beautiful, and of course the bride was stunning. I especially enjoyed experiencing Chris’ family – they are people who know how to have fun and you can tell they are close. With family like that supporting you, a marriage can only grow stronger.

During a point of transition, as we walked down the hall from dinner to dancing, my feet slipped out from under me on the highly waxed floor and I ended up on my ass with a twisted ankle. Chris happened to be there when it happened and offered to get some ice for my ankle, and I said, “No, my ankle is fine. It’s my pride that’s a little hurt at the moment.” And he instantly flopped down to the floor next to me. The groom! What a guy – how could I wallow in self-pity after such kindness?

Congratulations to Chris and Ponzi – may you have many years of laughing until you pee!

Here is the link to the pirillowedding tag on flickr. Here are mine specifically.

Peeps

I know I’ve talked about my birthday FAR too much than anybody should on the internet, but it’s been celebrated in bits and pieces with various people – much like Christmas was for me with divorced parents and heaps of extended family.

As I stated last year, I like to spend my birthday with The Girls, because even though I’ve made many NEW friends in the sixteen years since landing in this city, the day still symbolizes the beginning of Steel Magnolias-type friendships in my life.

Previous to attending college I was the only girl amongst a pack of guy friends, finding that girlfriends were high maintenance and catty. But once I was dropped into the middle of a girls’ dorm for two years, I found a smattering of kindred spirits.

I’ve always thought it was Providence that brought me to Seattle, since I insisted to my parents that I move here, applied to only one college in the area, and had no logical reason for any of this to happen. I even dropped out of college eventually. But it was through my college experience that I met my lifelong friends, and subsequently began a journey of growing up in my Christian faith.

Over the years those first girlfriends have taught me how to be faithful through disagreements, compassionate through struggle, patient through wandering, and joyful through tears. And as I make new friends, I’ve learned that the pieces of me that I shared with only a few actually multiply like fishes and loaves as I offer them to others, and I become full in the bounty of friendship.

The other night I went out with many of The Girls (click on the photo above). Not all could make it, but I know they were there in spirit. Jenny wrote about it here, and for the record, mom – I was NOT drunk.

Lauren Sandler’s, Righteous, Illustrates that Hatchet Jobs Sell Books

Dear friends of mine agreed to be interviewed last year by Lauren Sandler for a book she was writing – the just released, Righteous: Dispatches from the Evangelical Youth Movement. The interview was with Ted Dietz, mainly, but following the interview Ted and his wife, Sarah, my best friend of fifteen years, invited Lauren and her husband over for dinner…

…TO BE NICE.

What was just released this week is a gross twisting of fact and reality, and a sad distortion of the lives of two women – my friend, Sarah, and another gal I know, Judy. These are lovely, strong, educated women who have made the choice to be married, to raise children, and to stay home with their children while they are young.

Their lives and the choices they have made are currently being mocked and scrutinized and debated on the reputable salon.com, and in blogs across the internet. Lauren has portrayed both these women as shallow, trapped, sell-outs who left behind great careers and a fabulous life of partying because they bought into the brainwashing tactics of a tennis shoe wearing, cool aide drinking pastor.

You can read an excerpt of the book here at salon.com. If you know Ted and Sarah as I do, you will be disgusted at how they are portrayed. If you don’t know Ted and Sarah, please know that what is printed is not fact, but rather an attempt to shove a size 10 foot of reality into the size 8 shoe of Lauren’s agenda.

When Bryan and I were talking last night, and I was flying off the handle with expletives and threats of dismemberment, he reminded me of Jeffrey Overstreet’s hilarious story on his Looking Closer blog – the one where he was contacted for an interview on whether he thought the media was anti-religious. As he was preparing his response, one that called out the media’s tendency to cover the most arresting stories, which also tend to be the extreme voices in religion – the Jerry Fallwell types who blame terrorist acts on homosexuals – the media source called him back to cancel, determining that Jeffrey’s voice was not extreme enough for the interview.

“I can’t think of a punchline good enough to end this story,” he said in conclusion.

Ted and Sarah are balanced, salt of the earth people. What they lacked in extremity, Lauren fashioned with words in a James Frey Million Little Pieces sort of way. But hey, a little augmented reality never hurt anybody, right?

It certainly sells books.

Mad Housewives Unite!

My friend, Jenny, and I both had commitments to watch someone else’s kids last night, so we decided to consolidate our tasks and hang out together in the process.

And, wow, what a night.

At one point we had seven toddlers under the age of four running around! I actually find this sort of thing fun, though exhausting. I actually went to bed before midnight last night (doesn’t happen often).

Jenny brought along a great wine for us to share after most of the kids were in bed, admittedly chosen only for the label: Mad Housewife! It wasn’t the smoothest red I’ve had, but it’s definitely worth buying just to display the bottle somewhere in your home! The back of the label reads:

Somewhere near the cool shadows of the laundry room.
Past the litter box and between the plastic yard toys.
This is your time.
Time to enjoy a moment to yourself.
A moment without the madness.
The dishes can wait.
Dinner be damned.

We had so much fun last night – changing diapers in shifts and taking turns as the tickle monster – that it got me thinking about other ways to share the burden of otherwise isolating or mundane tasks, making them a bit more fun.

For instance, before Thomas was born I had an ‘errand swap’ arrangement going with one of my friends – she watched Ruthie on Tuesday morning while I went grocery shopping or to my OB appointments, and I watched her kids on Thursday morning while she ran errands. It was a great way to run those multiple errands where you’re in and out of your car several times.

Several years ago when we were both first married, that same friend and I did a housecleaning swap. Every Friday we’d meet at someone’s house to clean the bathroom, kitchen, and do the vacuuming, and the next Friday we’d do the same at the other’s house. At the time, we both lived in small apartments, and working together we were able to clean an entire apartment in about an hour. It was fun, and motivating, and a great way to hang out when married life gets busy with other things.

My other friend and I have also talked about next Spring when our yards and gardens are overgrown from the Winter’s neglect. We’ve talked of taking turns on a couple of Saturdays helping each other weed, prune, and prepare our vegetable gardens – a job that may take all day alone, but much less time when working together. Plus our kids can play, and our husbands can make dinner for us, and there is so much fellowship that happens with sharing these kinds of tasks.

I think it’s easy for wives and mothers to feel isolated from others. As our lives become more complicated, our spare time is continually shrinking, and it becomes increasingly difficult to connect with other people. For many of us, our only friends are the people we work with, or if we stay home with preschoolers, we may not even have that luxury.

I think about the gal who baby sits all the children at my gym. She has a 10 month old, and almost every day that I’m in there she has another question for me – When did your kids start walking? Do your kids keep taking their shoes off? What do you do for teething pain? Is it hard having two kids so close in age? I just get the feeling that since she’s asking a complete stranger these questions, she must not have many other people in her life who understand her frustrations and insecurities.

I have a Shakespeare quote on a matted photo of me with several of my friends that says, “I am wealthy in my friends.” I think up until recently I’ve taken my life for granted, assuming that everybody has lots of people in their lives to share the emotional load of being a wife and mother. But as my world expands more and more outside of my home and my church, I’m meeting other women who are more isolated than me.

It has simultaneously caused me to invite them into my world, and become more grateful for the women in my life who influence and support me. Friendships are important to me – I’m a deeply loyal person. When life gets busy and I don’t see my friends for some time, I begin to feel isolated.

Why not multitask by hanging out together while Getting Things Done? What if we started some kind of crazy, housewife revolution to get us all out of our own mundane lack of motivations? Hey, I’ll clean yours if you clean mine!