Posted in Childhood, Family, Marriage, Motherhood, Thanks

Long Hill, Of Course (A Tribute)

“Where we love is home. Home that our feet may leave.  But never our hearts.”  (Anonymous)

Where can you pop into the local grocery store and run into your children’s gym teacher who ended up being their middle school soccer coach and one of the most influential people in their now budding adult lives?

LONG HILL, OF COURSE

Where can you walk through a church’s red door anytime of the day to pray, drop off books, go to a giant yard sale, and even have your animals blessed (it’s also where your youngest experienced the best nursery school of all time)?

LONG HILL, OF COURSE

Where can you find a community that bands together, cares for one another and truly lives the definition of good neighbors during the literal darkest of times? #nomorepoweroutages

LONG HILL, OF COURSE

Where can you visit a rehab for raptors, hike in a 12-square mile swamp, and purchase gorgeous mums and poinsettias the size of Texas?

LONG HILL, OF COURSE

Where can your kids make friendships that stand the test of high school, college, and stand up for them in their weddings, reminding them of all the goodness this little town has to offer?

LONG HILL, OF COURSE

Where can you call your landscaper (#durso), your tree guy (#danstreecare), your chimney cleaner (#huffandpuff), your dry cleaner (#gillettecleaners), your contractor (#monettibuilders), your mechanic (#valleyauto), your HVAC company (#c&dcoolingandheating) and say “I need you.  It’s an emergency” and they help you pronto and give you their own personal cell phone numbers?

LONG HILL, OF COURSE

Where can you meet someone named Fawn who takes care of your packages and your mail and your stamps and your address change, at the same time asking about your family?

LONG HILL, OF COURSE

Where can you watch your kids play soccer, basketball (REC basketball being their favorite childhood activity of all time), field hockey, lacrosse, baseball, tennis, you name it, complete with a home-grown fireworks show?

LONG HILL, OF COURSE

Where can a friend and wife of your son’s lacrosse coach turn into your ever-hopeful realtor and make leaving just a little more palatable?   Thank you Christina Roche!

LONG HILL, OF COURSE

Where can you eat a healthy smoothie or a train-station omelet for breakfast, gluten-free muffin for your mid-morning snack, pizza for lunch at three different places, have a giant cookie with amazing coffee in the early afternoon, topping it off with “Dublin style fish and chips” while watching your favorite band, all on an otherwise boring Monday?  (not to mention rice pudding at midnight at the local diner)

LONG HILL, OF COURSE

Where can your child take horse-back riding lessons, learn karate from experts, pick an apple from a tree farm, sit on a life-guard stand protecting little ones from the “lake” and join the “police explorers” to discover a passion they might not know they have?

LONG HILL, OF COURSE

Where can you discover Leo the MGM lion buried, hop on a train to New York City in under an hour, get much-needed recovery at a famous shrine that longs to bring healing, and kayak down a river?

LONG HILL, OF COURSE

Where can you move with four children and immediately find life-long friends who still love your kids and want to know all about their “out of Long Hill lives” when you bump into them at said grocery store above?

LONG HILL, OF COURSE

Where can you buy cards at a discount, a buttered-roll, your prescription, the Echoes-Sentinel, lottery tickets, the best dang deli sandwich with more deliciousness than should be allowed, the place your middle schoolers went every single day after school for three straight years for their candy fix? (#dorsis)

LONG HILL, OF COURSE

Where can you order a champion Taylor ham, bacon, egg and cheese on an everything bagel (with salt, pepper, and no ketchup for me) that your grown kids still eat every.single.time they are in town?

LONG HILL, OF COURSE

Where can you get your teeth fixed (#drgarafalo), your nails fixed, your spine fixed (#drrossi), your pets fixed (#drcoleman), your hair fixed at the same time you get a listening ear (#lisaatzizzorz) and your heart fixed (#everychurchintown)?

LONG HILL, OF COURSE

Where can a local mom of four boys turn into the very crucial “town” mom (#lisatherecdirector) who provides awesome Easter Egg hunts, yoga for stressed-out Long Hillians, a tree-lighting complete with the middle school band, summer camp, a concert series, and the best lake dance this side of the Delaware River?

LONG HILL, OF COURSE

Where can you join the Elks, the Rescue Squad, the Knitter’s Club, the Girl/Boy Scouts,  the PTO, the Meyersville Grange (complete with a soup cook off), the Fire Department, the Knights of Columbus, the Senior Citizens club (there’s a whole building for that), the Historical Society and the Lion’s Club?  #enoughtokeepyoubusyforalifetime

LONG HILL, OF COURSE

Where can you pay your taxes (#ugh), peruse books and take one home for yourself, play tennis, watch a sporting event, remember and pay respect to a great hometown hero, take a beautiful walk with a friend, and enjoy an outdoor birthday party, all in the same place?

LONG HILL, OF COURSE

Lastly, where can you raise your family in the best-kept secret in all of New Jersey, and in the process, raise yourself?

LONG HILL, OF COURSE

******************************

Author’s Note:  We have lived in sleepy little Long Hill for 17 amazing years.  We are moving this week and my heart is broken and thankful all at the same time.  I love you, Long Hill Township.  You have been one of my very best friends.

 

 

Posted in Celebration, Family, Grief, Marriage, Motherhood, Thanks

Kitchen Table, I Will Miss You Most of All

Kitchen Table,

Here I sit on one of your chairs, spending some much-needed time with you today.   What a mess you are, strewn with apples just bought at the farm stand, my purse, books I am reading, an open cereal container, a dirty plate filled with the remains of eggs and toast, my phone, some unpaid bills and a piping hot cup of tea.

You couldn’t be more perfect.

I am so sorry that I am not bringing you with me next week when we move.

You have been such a strong, yet inviting friend to me.  Out of everything I am leaving behind, I will miss you most of all.

I will miss choosing you at the furniture shop over 28 years ago, my thoughts of the future with you swirling in my head.

I will miss decorating you for every.single.reason.  From apples to pumpkins to snowflakes to birthdays to easter eggs to whatever tickled my fancy.

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I will miss babies being pulled up in their high chairs next to you, surrounded by faces of those who love them.

I will miss the spinning lazy Susan in your middle that holds napkins, salt and pepper, the standard balsamic vinaigrette, butter and some spicy seasoning I refuse to try.

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I will miss dogs licking up all the crumbs off the floor beneath you.

I will miss spaghetti-faced toddlers “coloring” you with red sauce.

I will miss sheets turning you into a fort for Dad and his little ones.

Making Fort_0001

I will miss the small missing piece on your leaf where one of us dropped something hard and you paid the price.

I will miss your chairs where each one of us sat in our “assigned” places.

I will miss dishes being set on you for large family gatherings where you became the “kid’s table.”

I will miss laughing and crying, listening and talking, whispering and yelling, all of it.

I will miss nails being painted, pumpkins being carved and homework assignments being mostly finished on top of you.

I will miss the dreams shared, the scoldings given, and the “you have to try it” mantra being repeated every single night.

I will miss friends throwing purses on you and coats on your chairs as hearts were shared in another room.

I will miss birthday parties with cupcakes crumbled in your crevices and balloons tied to your chairs.

Jared's 7th Bday_0004IMG_5672

I will miss Thanksgiving soup being prepared as veggies and turkey were chopped into tiny pieces on your very sturdy, formica (but wood-look) top.

I will miss the way you endured beer-sampling, game-playing and appetizer-eating on all those crazy extended family holidays.

I will miss arguments, raised voices and quieter apologies with you right there in the middle of it all, holding us together.

I will miss how you held Easter baskets, babies, fondue sets, games, legos and gingerbread houses, displaying for everyone to see.

I will miss flowers, invitations and decorations scattered all over you as showers and weddings were being prepped.

I will miss normal family dinners when someone got trouble for poking the person next to them.  (NOTE:  It was never Dad.)

I will miss how you watched from afar as silly pictures were being taken on the computer only a few feet from you.

I will miss Friday pizza nights when you were sprinkled with paper plates and plastic cups filled with everyone’s favorite drink of choice.

BUT what I will really miss is the way you stayed with me through six kids, four houses, one marriage, lots of hellos, many goodbyes, and all the celebrations and sadness that made up our family.  You stayed with me.

How good and precious for me to be alone with you right now, just the two of us, saying our goodbye to each other.  Thank you for being with me as tears sneak down my cheek, a lump forms in my throat and I not-so-secretly hate leaving you behind.  I couldn’t be more grateful to you.  Thank you.  Thank you.   You have held my heart well.

You have been a mess in the past.  You are a mess right now.  But you have been perfect.  You couldn’t be more perfect.

I will miss you most of all.

Esther

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Family, Grief

Tuesday the Cat

I can’t believe I cried last night.

We put our fourteen-year-old cat down.

I have always made jokes that I didn’t like her (or more importantly, she didn’t like us). That I couldn’t wait to have my house back again without pets (it’s been 25 years of pets)!!!

But as she climbed up on my lap for the last time around 6 pm (I can’t remember the last time that happened – seriously!) and she actually let me pet her without biting me, my heart twinged. It was like she knew what was about to happen only an hour later. She seemed to be saying goodbye as well.

I still can’t believe I cried.

It amazes me how I can appear light-hearted, strong or even callous on the outside most of the time, but that deep-feeling, vulnerable, tender spot within me rises without much provoking and my eyes tell the real story!

This very pretty, calico cat named Tuesday was more like me than I care to admit. Appearing light-hearted, yet deep-feeling. Appearing strong, yet vulnerable. Appearing callous with an “I don’t care” attitude, yet tender.

When she looked up at me for the last time as I said goodbye and told her that I actually did love her, I was in many ways, looking into the mirror of my own soul.

Thank you, Tuesday, for helping me to see that I am not fully one or fully the other, that I am both, all mixed up inside! Thank you, Tuesday, for the weird gift you were to our family and to me!

I still can’t believe I cried, but I’m glad I did.

 

Posted in Childhood, Faith, Family, Friendship, Marriage, Motherhood, Thanks

Did you Know (it wasn’t just a house)?

“She was an adventurer at heart.  But oh how she loved drinking this tea in this mug in this chair.  Oh how she loved to be home.”  (Google Images)

When you hurriedly trekked up the sidewalk with your then 10-year-old in a whirlwind house-hunting trip in August of 2002 and opened the door at 23 Cedar Hollow Drive, DID YOU KNOW?

Did you know…

the neighbor boy that walked through the door the day you moved in would become one of your son’s life-long friends and your son would share the weight of pall-bearer at his dad’s funeral eight years later?

music would fill the living room and your baby would fall in love with the guitar and piano and her playing and singing would be a gift to your soul and you miss these moments terribly?

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23 Cedar Hollow Drive would be brimming with boatloads of love for and from almost every species of animal, from snakes, to dogs, to cats, to hamsters, to fish (that wouldn’t die), to every assortment of lizard and now there is only one left?

your marriage, faltering at best, would become a place of hope and healing for dozens and dozens of young couples on the verge of their own life-long journey of marriage?  (in fact, you are spending time with one of them again this morning)

your nervous decision to construct a pool granted a space for family, friends, teammates, youth groups, classmates, neighbors and even strangers to rejuvenate and be refreshed?  (water gun fights and subsequent peals of laughter did just the trick)

 first days of school and dance pictures and phone conversations filled with both laughter and tears would mark your front stoop (and who knows, maybe some goodnight kisses by young lovers)?

extended family would gather for holidays and normal days, where sports teams would be cheered for, good food would be eaten, games (and some arguments over those games) would be played, and most significantly, unbreakable bonds would be formed?

your young daughter, struggling with severe OCD and the inability to go away even for a week would receive help through counselors and would now be a flourishing wife, teacher and mom?

an actual wedding ceremony would be performed in your living room because the bride and groom thought the church was located in your town and got their marriage license in the wrong place?

annual Easter Egg hunts (or should I say money hunts) created a place for teens and budding adults to still be kids in all the best ways?

endless art supplies and crafts from your artist would be haphazardly strewn over all available surfaces and one of those works would be still hanging proudly in your family room for your prospective buyers to see and admire?

birthdays would be celebrated in all their simplicity and sometimes complexity, giving room for sharing reasons why the one whose day it was to be honored was loved (and even liked)?

every kind of sport uniform would be thrown in heaps on your kitchen floor and not-so-carefully cleaned in your laundry room, providing a place of community and friendship for your kids?  (even as you write this, two of your son’s high school teammates are asleep with your 23-year-old in the basement)

your finished basement would be filled with sleep-overs and left-overs and hang-overs and do-overs and make-overs and probably thousands of humans entered those doors?

your outdoorsy son, content to spread mulch, carefully prune bushes and chop wood with his dad, would be happiest at his job doing the same?  (and he would embrace your sports teams to the full)

Dcp_1465

your family room couch would become the healing place for illnesses too numerous to count, unforeseen and planned surgeries, along with the comforting spot to take a mental health recovery day and that you let your kids skip school for only this reason (oh how far you’ve come)?

small groups filled with lasting and abiding friendships would meet, pouring over books and videos, praying through heartache, celebrating joys, living the ups and downs of life and kids and marriage and…and…and.. (one of them still met last night right in your family room)? 

the pony-tailed 10-year-old around the corner and school-bus seat mate would become one of your firstborn’s closest friends, bridesmaid fourteen years later and Auntie Taylor to your grandson?

a baby in your womb would be lost yet your heart would be born anew?

your game-boy playing first-grader would help you to create your new podcast and be a regular and wise guest?

Dcp_1678

early Christmas mornings would be filled with children (and even now adults) sitting on your bed opening surprises (and not-surprises) through sleepy, yet curious and excited eyes?

a nervous breakdown would seek to destroy you but a life-long journey toward healing and wholeness would begin and continue today and that a writer’s quest would result?

homework would be finished (or not-so-much), college applications would be filled out, but most important, hearts would be taught to love and hope and apologize and respect and give and continue to learn?

your basement would be the place for a barely sprouting church youth group of eight teens and three leaders that is now hundreds strong?

warm fires would be built inside and out, where stories were shared, sleep was encouraged, s’mores were eaten, and life-giving memories were created?

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fights would break out, doors would be slammed, harsh words would be spoken, yet subsequent apologies would be made and forgiveness would be granted?  Love and trust would be painstakingly built brick by brick?

your two-year old would happen upon a friend in first grade and after endless sleepovers, birthday parties and bring-a-friend vacations, their college hearts would be knit together even though hundreds of miles separate them?

your glass kitchen door would be filled with chore charts and yearly memorabilia, bird-feeder and deck-flower views, and sun-soaked floors for pets to relax and sleep blissfully?

seventeen New Year’s Eves would be celebrated, some quiet with tired bodies barely making it until midnight and others loud with friends singing God Bless America on the stoop after a long-night of Bunco?

a new love would come bearing another new love?

religion would be shed over and over and Jesus would rise in its place to become the healer of your heart and the lover of your soul?

you and Allen would be more in love than you thought was even possible?

Did you know…

Thankful tears would flow because this house is a true haven of healing and that as you leave it, your prayer is the same for the next set of feet that trek up the sidewalk and open your front door and make this their home?

Yes.  This you now know.  You know ALL of it.

 

If you’ve made it this far and you like this, I am asking if you could go back out on social media where you came from and “Like” it!  Makes a huge difference in how much it gets read and/or shared.  Thank you from the bottom of my heart!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Faith, Family, Health, Motherhood, Podcast - Dolly Mama and the Millennials

OUR BIG THREE (According to Josh) – Link to Dolly Mama and the Millennials Podcast! YAY!

I am so excited today!  I am launching my first podcast entitled the Dolly Mama and the Millennials!  This podcast will be mostly for moms and dads to get help navigating the very beautiful and messy journey of this thing we call parenting!

You will get a behind-the-scenes look at the secrets, struggles and successes of our typical American family (if there is such a thing as typical).   My desire is that you would come away from listening to it encouraged on your own journey and receiving the grace you need to keep up the good work you are already doing!

To whet your appetite today, join with me as I interview Josh, our third-born of four adult kids.  We explore “our big three” according to him, what he believes we highly valued and esteemed in our parenting and family life.  You’ll find out about my mom mantra, “TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF AND YOUR STUFF” and how that kept us from continuing to have those never-kept behavioral contracts I had my kids sign but never followed through on (you can read more in detail about this by clicking HERE).  You will also hear what other TWO (what this Dolly Mama would deem) SUPER important life values somehow made the leap across that seemingly giant chasm between my heart (and Allen’s too) and his!

If you are just at the beginning of this crazy journey of parenthood, somewhere in the messy part, launching your kids into adulthood, or “been there, done that” and just want to be reminded that it was all worth it, this podcast is for you!  We are parents from the moment they are born until they moment we take our last breath.  I’ll never get away from being their mom, nor would I want to.

ENJOY (It’s only about 20 minutes!) BY CLICKING HERE!!

AND SHARE WITH ALL YOUR PEOPLE!

 

 

Posted in Faith, Family, Friendship, Grief, Thanks

Dear Mrs. Geiger (#goodgrief),

“Someone is sitting in the shade today because someone planted a tree a long time ago.”  (Warren Buffett)

Dear Mrs. Geiger (otherwise known as Grandma to my kids),

This weekend, I was flipping through my beat-up recipe book trying to figure out what to eat with Allen.  I came across an old-fashioned casserole recipe that you had given me. Made with Rice-A-Roni®, cream of mushroom soup, diced chicken, corn and breadcrumbs.  Usually, I am fairly health-conscious, but it didn’t matter one bit.  I was determined to make it just to honor the fact that you gave it to me (and from what I remember, it was yummy).

From the first time I met you, I felt loved.  The year was 1990.  Me:  a twenty-something, red-headed, spicy girl in a new church in the middle of  a budding romance.  You: a sixty-ish, white-haired grandma, with a contagious laugh (I can even hear it now) and a servant’s heart.  You were pretty spicy yourself.  Little did I know what was in store for the next eight years.

Right from the very beginning, you began planting seeds of kindness and goodness into me.  You were unlike anyone I had ever met.  I wasn’t sure why I was chosen, but I was happy about it.  Within months of knowing me, you invited me (and my new love Allen) over for dinner.  As we pulled up to your Cape Cod on a quiet cul-de-sac in the darkness of winter, candles flickered in the window inviting us to the feast you would set before us and the warmth of your love (and Mr. G’s) inside.

As the months and our romance progressed and I struggled to convince Allen that I was the love of his life, you called me to your home once again and said, “Let’s get on our knees and ask God about this.”   Onto our knees we went beside your bed.   I’m not even sure I had a choice.   I found out we weren’t asking God about anything.  You were telling God that He needed to make Allen see what a gift I was and that he should ask me to marry him immediately.  It was crazy bold and I felt loved.  How good and kind you were to me.

It was sooner than later that your bold prayer was answered and Allen asked me to marry him.  You had us over for a celebration complete with an Italian dinner, those candles again flickering in the window inviting us into your home and more importantly, your heart.  That evening, we spoke of our discouragement in finding a reasonably-priced rental.  Immediately, you told us you would phone the widow who owned the empty home next door and ask if she would be willing to rent to us.  We were not only overjoyed at your kindness, but also because our frustrating home search might be over.  You called the next day.

Within a few months, just weeks before our wedding day, I moved in to 23 Edward Court, the little Cape Cod right next door to you and Mr. G, 27 Edward Court.  After our return from honeymooning in the Smokey Mountains, Allen moved in with me and we started our married lives together, happy to know that you were only about 30 feet away, filled with love, goodness, grace, kindness and wisdom.  What a treasure.  The next several years began to unfold.

You were one of the very first people I told when I found out I was pregnant with our first child.  You invited us over several evenings for dinner as I awaited my baby, juggling work, pregnancy and our new home.  You gave me recipes as a new wife that I made without the same ability and patience as you.  You prayed with and for me, listening to all my hopes and fears about these new chapters I was writing.

When Sarah arrived, you immediately called yourself “Grandma” and Mr. G “Poppy.”  You brought the Rice-A-Roni® casserole (the above one I made this weekend) the day I came home from the hospital, providing food and love once again in a time where I was exhausted and didn’t know my right hand from my left.  The seeds of kindness and goodness you sowed in my heart began to bud.

Time marched on and I had more babies.  You were the truest Grandma in every sense of the word, having Sarah over for tea parties and doll-house playing, beckoning Jared into your home to push the button to make the “choo choo train” whistle, poking Josh in the belly button, reminding him that it was his “tortellini” and causing bursts of laughter for all.  You viewed the dirty fingerprints covering your glass door from six little Goetz hands as marks of love.

You celebrated our birthdays, always making my favorite angel food cake in February and serving Allen a London broil on the grill in our backyards in August.  Our kids expected just the right gift from you on their big days and they had no idea you were anything other than their family.  The truth is you weren’t.

Our lives kept moving along in sync with each other, as we attended the same little church, lived on the same little street, and enjoyed the same little moments over and over and over.  Cups of tea, your love for Bermuda and our promise to go there on our 20th anniversary (which we did), visits for missing ingredients in the dishes I was making (too many times, I am embarrassed to say), stroller walks, laughter until our bellies hurt, tools borrowed, meals eaten together, wisdom shared (this was a one-way street), and hearts connected.  The seeds of your kindness and goodness bloomed in my soul.

The winter came when Allen and I felt we had outgrown our small home.  We began looking.  Knowing we would leave you gave us deep sadness.  When we mustered up the nerve to share this with you, you had your own news.  You were ready to move on to your next home as well, an adult community in beautiful Lancaster, PA.  We were relieved yet very sad.  As the months stretched ahead, we had garage sales and goodbye parties.  We shed mutual tears and shared excited hearts.  And as God would have it, our move dates were only days apart.  At the end of August, 1998, we both packed up all our belongings side-by-side and headed out into the next chapters of our lives.  We both said we couldn’t have done it any other way.

Of course, over the next many years, we visited you often and you came to our new home and we shared beautiful moments together.  One more time, you welcomed our last baby, Rachel, with open arms and hearts.  But the plain and simple truth is that it was never quite the same.  The true gift of those eight years living right next door, sharing our tables and our hearts, was once-in-a-lifetime, something I will treasure forever.  But as we know, kindness and goodness are the gifts that keep on giving.  Those seeds that you planted in my life are growing into a beautiful tree filled with abundant harvest and hopefully shade for others, that same shade you provided for me.

Today, I am a kinder and better woman, mom and wife because of you.  Allen is a kinder and better man, husband and father because of you.  My children are kinder and better human beings, budding adults, spouses, friends, sons and daughters because of you.   I don’t know why I was chosen for to receive this grand, beyond-my-imagination gift.  I am eternally grateful.

It’s been about six years since you passed away.  The last time Sarah and I sat with you in your apartment (only three weeks before you were gone), you shared your excitement about going to see Mr. G (Poppy to Sarah) and Jesus very soon.  You planted more seeds of kindness and goodness even that day.  You gave Sarah a special teacup from your collection, a wonderful reminder of all the tea parties you had with her when she was just a little girl.  You gave me, as I looked into your eyes and hugged you fiercely one final time, the greatest gift I could ever receive, the gift of yourself.

I miss you and Mr. G very much.   I can’t wait to eat that casserole today.

With All the Love and Thanks I Can Muster,

Esther

 

Posted in Faith, Guest

The Pots in My Head

I am so excited about my guest this week, Sandi Piazza!  You are in for a treat!  Sandi is married to Gerry, and is currently on her third career as a stay-at-home homeschooling mom to Emilio (10) and Ana (8).  She is passionate, strong, wise and gentle.  Her heart comes alive when fighting for equality and social justice, diving into literature of all kinds, and providing the much-needed love and care for her foster dogs.  Welcome, Sandi!

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A few years ago, I heard someone preach that men’s brains are like waffles (compartmentalized) and women’s brains are more like spaghetti (highly intertwined).  For many in the audience, this really resonated.  Not for me.  I have pots in my head.

As a perfectionist.  I always have a lot going on AND never really learned how to outline and organize big projects, I tend to procrastinate until I must focus fully on the task at hand and get it done.  To juggle several divergent tasks, I developed a system where I envision my brain as a cooktop covered with pots during a large holiday meal.  Those who know me well may have heard me say, “OK. I need to get a new pot going in my head.” (In fact, that proclamation to my curious friend Esther is the origin of this post!)

When any project comes up, I add a pot on my brain’s stovetop.  I carefully consider the core (main ingredient) of that task?  What else needs to be added (some side elements) in order to accomplish this?  How long do I have to complete (cook) this undertaking?  Each item on my “to do” list gets a dedicated pot–something akin to the discrete little compartments in waffles, but oftentimes things are related and work together and it’s not quite the jumbled mess of spaghetti.  Every so often, I sit down and think, “OK, POT CHECK!  Let’s give things a stir.”

This process was crucial to my success as an undergraduate student.  I was pursuing a degree in English Literature, which meant multiple books and essays assigned at any given moment.  I was an officer in a club.  I had an almost-full-time job.  I was active in a church community (and most of us know what that means for good and bad).  I was fortunate enough to have scholarships covering a huge chunk of my tuition, but room and board simply weren’t in the budget for the Rodriguez family. This meant LOTS of time spent in transit on the subway, commuting from the northernmost tip of Manhattan all the way down to Greenwich Village, in the days before internet, laptops, and smartphones. What was a student to do?  CHECK MY POTS!

Typical POT CHECK, sitting on the subway riding home from school:

POT ONE:  Paper due later this week on William Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury.

“I loved the book, even though it took me a while to understand the first chapter, with its stream-of-consciousness descriptions and odd details like Cassie’s white underpants as she climbs a tree. WTH is that about? Interesting that the main character of the book never actually gets to speak for herself…her brothers and the family servant do all the talking. Can I emphasize this in my paper somehow? Hmm… OK, I’ll put it aside to revisit later, but it’s due soon so best not to wait too long.”

POT TWO:  Paper two comparing Coriolanus and Titus Andronicus.

“Ugh.  May as well be comparing liver and okra. Blaaah. That one isn’t due for a few weeks. Back burner for sure.”

POT THREE:  Leading Bible study next week.

“What’s the verse again? ‘For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh, for the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but divinely powerful for the destruction of fortresses…’  OK, how can I make this super-familiar verse seem fresh? There’s the whole Iran Contra-gate thing in the news…weapons of warfare… Too much of a stretch?  Should I just read it and leave it hanging there, hoping everyone can apply it to their own life?  Hmm… I have some time on this.  Let it simmer on low.”

POT FOUR:  Choir Christmas service.

“It’s coming up soon.  I have the lyrics and harmonies of the songs memorized.  I have the white shirt I need and I have that black skirt I can wear.  I haven’t worn it in a while.  I hope it fits…I might need to add some girdle-y (is that even a word? girdle-like?) underwear to make it fit better… Stir that pot when I get home.  Wait…”

WEIRD TRANSITION BACK TO POT ONE:

“Underwear, again.  That’s in a couple of my pots.  Back to the paper.  There was that thing in where Benji notices Cassie’s underwear.  Weird for a brother to notice that about his sister.  Wait, now that I think of it, didn’t that happen with more than one narrator?  Where’s that book?”

By the time I got home from school, I had figured out that there were three different characters in The Sound and the Fury who noticed the central character’s underpants, and that the underwear reflected what they thought of her in that.  The paper practically wrote itself, which was a blessing in the pre-word-processor 1980s!

Some 30 years later, my perfectionism has waned, but I still organize my thoughts and projects in this way.  The pots bubbling away in my mind these days tend to be more abstract than project-based, and currently include things like:

  • what walking with Jesus looks like after deconstructing some toxic doctrines from my fundamentalist upbringing
  • having a successful marriage, almost 14 years in, without an example in my life to emulate
  • parenting a child—possibly two—with autism
  • navigating family relationships successfully and in a healthy way when members struggle with mental illness, addiction, & codependency
  • homeschooling
  • building and maintaining a tribe
  • a room decorating project
  • volunteer responsibilities
  • rescue dogs, old dogs, and how to keep them both healthy/calm

You get the idea.  Lysa TerKeurst says, “The mind feasts on what it focuses on.  What consumes my thinking will be the making or the breaking of my identity.”  That rings true.  This is the stuff of my life…the things that nourish me, sustain me, and keep me going.

Doing an occasional pot check helps me to realize what I know a lot about and what I need to research further.  And, much as it did when I was in college, it often allows me to draw parallels and to see how something in one pot relates to another, helping me make sense out of a vexing problem and integrate the various parts of my life.

I also cook a lot more now than I did when I was younger, and something invaluable I’ve come to know is that there is one ingredient that improves every dish I cook.  GARLIC! Just kidding.  It’s SALT!

Salt is amazing. It has so many uses! It preserves.  It melts ice.  It kills weeds, and, relevant to the topic at hand, it seasons food and enhances the flavor of almost everything.

Author and activist Mariama Bâ has said that “The flavor of life is love. The salt of life is also love.”  That rings so true!  Much as every dish I cook improves with a bit of salt, every pot in my head is better when I add some love.

Sound like a stretch?  See for yourself!

Parenting?  Add love.

Marriage?  Add love.

Faith?  Family?  Tribe?  Yes, yes, yes…more love.

Re-examining my faith?  Definitely needs more love.

And so on…

However, unlike salt, I have yet to see a “pot” where too much love ruined it.

Well, if you’ll excuse me, the kids are occupied for the moment, leaving me a few moments to sit and reflect.  Perfect time for a pot check.  No thanks on the waffles and spaghetti, but…can you please pass the salt?


A final word from the Dolly Mama.  It’s been a pleasure having Sandi come and share with us.  She’s exceptional.  If you’d like to see some of my favorite blog posts, take a look at these (and please follow me if you like what you read and don’t want to miss another post):

Not the Boss of Me

The Goetz Family Law

“I Just Had to Pee” and other Half-Truths (Fighting the Monster of Anxiety…A Day in the Life…Glimmer of Hope)

To Pick Up or Put Down (Every Parent’s Never-Ending Battle)

Unraveling and Re-raveling (Getting Rid of the Formula)

Shattered Shalom (restoring it in my home and in our world)

Redeeming Hypnopompia

Posted in Family, Health, Marriage, Uncategorized

Make a Marriage Great Again (Part Seven of Ten) – Fight Fire with Fire

“Conflict creates the fire of affects and emotions; and like every fire it has two aspects:  that of burning and that of giving light.”  (Carl Jung)

Allen and I have our fair share of FIGHTS (the seventh F in the series).  We are certainly NOT the couple who can say, “We never argue.  We agree on everything.”  Nor do we want to be (well, Allen wants to be secretly).

Allen is kind and gracious. I am sarcastic and I like to say, discerning (others may call me a bit judgmental). Allen is a hard-worker, quiet and reserved. I am quick-witted and loud. He is methodical and analytical.  I am passionate and decisive. Allen is a supporter and a peacemaker. I am a leader and aggressive. As you can see, blending our personalities lends itself to conflict.  It is inevitable.

We bicker about (super important things like) how to pack the car, load the dishwasher, and fold the laundry.   I hear myself saying just last night, “I’ve told you not to fold my dresses.  They just go on a hanger.  You are wasting your time.”  (I know, ladies.  The man was folding the laundry and I still had something to say about it.)

We argue about more serious things like where to spend our money, how to handle the latest “children issue” and what to fill our calendars with, the things of life that have big implications.  There’s just no way around it.

We also have more tender “discussions” about how we’ve been hurt, misunderstood, and disrespected by the other.  These stem from places of abandonment and shame, and our lack of the ability to “stay with the uncomfortable” parts of ourselves.  Allen has an especially hard time with this, deeply desiring the absence of conflict.  It does not make him feel safe inside or out.  On the other hand, I love exposing all our shadowy parts (or maybe just his if I’m truthful) and bringing them out into the open for the gaping wound to sometimes fester and other times heal.  Allen tends to be the avoider.  I am the chaser.  I fight and he flees when we feel threatened.

For many years, we had no idea that all this conflict CAN actually lead to intimacy (being fully-known and fully-loved).  But it CAN also lead to disconnection.  The trick is knowing HOW to argue, how to fight fair.  Allen’s calm and quiet during our times of conflict appears like marital harmony, but without resolution, the problem just brews beneath the surface.  My love of “getting it out into the open” many times degenerates into insults and harm.  This breeds the perfect environment for disconnection.

Dr. Gottman, the expert marriage researcher, says that how a couple handles conflict is directly related to how likely they are to have a happy marriage.  There are four disastrous ways of interacting that will cripple attempts to resolve conflict, one feeding into the next (he calls them the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse):  criticism, contempt, defensiveness and stonewalling.  They are the FIRE that destroys.

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Complaining (not to be confused with endless nagging – Allen likes the idea of challenging the status quo) is a healthy marital activity.  It’s not pleasant, but it brings things into the light.  Many times, and this is where I personally struggle, it crosses the line to CRITICISM.  Criticism involves attacking someone’s person, rather than their behavior.  Complaints usually start with the word “I” and criticism with the word “you.”  For example, “I wish we spent more time together” is a complaint.  “You never spend time with me” is a criticism.  Criticism produces blame and multiplies shame, never resulting in closeness.

CONTEMPT brings criticism to a whole new level.  Many times, criticism, as bad as it is, is born from a place of frustration.  It tends to be a “crime” of passion.  Contempt is a clear “premeditated” attempt to harm your partner.  Its aim is to cause pain.  No matter if you have been married for four days or forty years, this monster sucks away every positive feeling spouses have for one another.  It appears in the form of name-calling, hostile humor (sarcasm) and straight up mockery.  I always associate it with the “rolling of the eyes.”  This is the most dangerous “horseman.”

Once contempt has entered the picture, each of us has a natural inclination to defend ourselves.  In fact, DEFENSIVENESS can result even from proper forms of communication like complaining, especially if there is unresolved shame in either party.  However, it is completely natural to resort to this place when there is CRITICISM and especially when CONTEMPT has taken hold.   This being said, defensiveness only escalates a conflict instead of resolving it.  Denying responsibility and making excuses only separates a couple further.

The last horseman is STONEWALLING.  Allen struggles with this.  Overwhelmed by emotions, his natural inclination is to withdraw, protect himself.  Even though it might look on the surface like “peace-making,” it actually is a very powerful act, conveying disapproval.  The example that comes to mind is when one of us “stops talking” to the other.  When this happens, the ability to connect is seriously thwarted and intimacy is beyond reach.

All this sounds so horrible and hard and probably completely relatable.  Even writing this is making me a little discouraged.  I need a little good news, how about you?

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There is great HOPE!  All of those horseman come into every marriage, even happy ones at some point or another, especially when there is intense marital conflict.  But they don’t have to be the norm.   Just like fires can bring harm and destruction, they can also produce light and warmth.

Conflict in marriage can be the fire that produces light and warmth.  It can bring life and vitality into a relationship.  It is the price you pay to have deeper intimacy.  WE CAN FIGHT FIRE WITH FIRE!  Here are basic “rules” (not a huge fan of that word) that govern how to move from harm to healing:

  1. DON’T RUN
    Bottling things up and burying them just makes the “cork pop” at some point.  The problem hasn’t gone away.  Instead, take some time away if you need to with the promise that you will come back together when cooler heads prevail over heated emotions.  This has been huge for us.  When Allen says “Let’s come back later,” I am able to “let things go for now” knowing there will be resolution.
  2. CHOOSE YOUR BATTLES
    This goes back to probably 85% of our arguments about how to squeeze the toothpaste tube, mow the lawn, etc.  Allen and I have wasted a lot of time and energy here.
  3. GET TO THE HEART OF THE MATTER
    Drs. Les and Leslie Parrot, marriage counselors, teach couples the X, Y, Z formula to help them state their true feelings,  “In situation X, when you do Y, I feel Z.”  This gives room for you to state how your partner’s behavior affects your feelings.  This is when “I” statements, instead of “you” statements, come into play.  This helps to diffuse defensiveness and provide a place of safety.
  4. NO LOW-BLOWS
    Never “throw back in their face” something your spouse has shared with you in a place of vulnerability and confidentiality.  In the heat of an argument, this is a quick “go-to,” but will break trust and humiliate the other.  Nothing enhances feelings of shame more than this.
  5. IS IT THE RIGHT TIME?
    This is especially helpful when working through the bigger things that may need to be sorted out over the long-haul.  I have had to learn this the hard way.  I want to rush through and fix things right away (like the minute it pops into my head).  Allen has taught me to be patient and gracious here.  Instead of my normal MO (mode of operation), I ask instead, “I have something bothering me.  When is a good time to talk about it?”
  6. AVOID MIND-READING
    Be careful to believe the best about the other’s intentions and be open to learning whether or not you are right or wrong.  Mind-reading assumes the worst about someone and can be a strategy of self-protection.  If I have Allen “all figured out” (and I’m not usually thinking the best), what room is there for him to share his heart?  This shuts down communication and blocks intimacy.
  7. STAY ON TOPIC
    Stick to the relevant issue that you are discussing.  Don’t veer off course, bringing up everything the person has done wrong in the last five years.  Refocus when things get off course.  Be careful of this slippery slope.
  8. TWO EARS, ONE MOUTH
    Listen.  Plain and simple.  But not that easy.  Have the goal of understanding where the other person is coming from.  This is so hard.  I’m not sure why.  We want so desperately to be understood.  Give the gift you long for to the other.  Hear with your heart.  Be careful not to fix.  Sometimes, silence is your spouse’s best friend (something super hard for this chatterbox).  “I hear you” have been three of the most powerful words I’ve ever said or heard.
  9. ADMIT YOUR PART
    I have a huge barrier when it comes to saying I am wrong.  I can see so clearly how Allen is “completely in the wrong about everything” (note sarcastic tone here).   This comes for me from a place of pride (“I’m better than you”).  For Allen, it comes from a place of shame (“You’re better than me”).  We both struggle here for different reasons, neither one of them good.  Understanding the back story of our own reactions is HUGE here.  When we understand that we both have infinite value and worth,  “I’m sorry” becomes much easier because we can take responsibility for our actions without blame and shame.
  10. FORGIVE
    Feeding off the compassion we now have for ourselves (and our spouses) that comes straight from God’s heart for us provides real room for forgiveness, “giving up my right to hurt you for hurting me.”  We all fail.  We all need forgiveness.  Giving to the other what we will eventually need brings true healing.  (This is a huge topic, one to be talked about at a later date.)

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I keep coming back to the image of fire.  “Keep the fires burning” and “Keep the flame alive” are mantras for good marriage.  Fire destroys or gives light.  Conflict is the same.  Fighting harms or heals, brings intimacy or disconnection.  I’m sure another “discussion” is right around the corner for Allen and me.  May we fight the FIRES of destruction and harm with the FIRES that bring light and healing!

If you’ve made it this far, can you go back to Social Media and “like” it (but only if you do like it…LOL)!


CHECK OUT THE FIRST SIX “Fs”

Family

Fidelity

Flaws

Faithfulness

Forecast

Friendship

Posted in Family, Guest, Motherhood

Leaving

Meet Susan Bernstein!  She is a wife to Eddie (married over 20 years), mom to three growing, young men (Brandon, Blake and Jordan) and a kind friend.  Susan is a dog-lover, a very organized stay-at-home mom (she jokes that she spends half her life at the grocery store), an amateur photographer and an aspiring writer!  Susan is loving, smart and brave.  THIS WILL BE A HUGE TREAT FOR YOU PARENTS OUT THERE (no matter what your age and stage)!  I hope you enjoy! 

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Guess Which One is Susan?

“The greatest gifts you can give your children are the roots of responsibility and the wings of independence.”  (Denis Waitley)

I would suspect most people don’t cry when looking through a Bed, Bath & Beyond catalogue. Last night however, I found myself doing just that. As I studied the various organizational and space-saving items they sell to help one fit their belongings into a 14 x 14 foot dorm room, the tears just started flowing. I couldn’t believe that in one short month, I’d be packing my oldest son up for college. My mothering mind wondered if he’d have everything he needed, but deep down I wasn’t too worried about shower caddies or desk lamps. My concern was more for friends, support, and wisdom…things they didn’t sell in that catalogue.

My husband noticed my tears and came over to hug me.

“You ok?” he asked me for probably the millionth time this year.

“Yeah.”  I exhaled and sighed.

“It’s not that I’m upset about him leaving,” a fresh sob forming in my throat, “It’s just that he’s never coming back.” And the floodgates erupted once more.

It hits me at odd times that our family of five will never again permanently reside under the same roof.  I beamed proudly during his graduation ceremony without shedding a tear. However, I had to pull myself together in the aisle of the Hallmark store as I shopped for a card and gift just days prior.  I choked back the tears as I chose Dr. Seuss’ Oh The Places You’ll Go, realizing he was about to begin a new phase of life, and it wouldn’t include us.

I knew in my heart the day would come.  I mean, isn’t this what we plan for as parents all along?  None of us have children and secretly hope that they’ll live with us when they are 40, right?  The fact that they leave means we actually did something right as a parent! We raised a child strong and independent enough to survive on his own! Isn’t that the whole point of this parenting thing? We spent untold hours teaching them the value of hard work, integrity, and the need for sunblock.  We had heart-to-hearts about taking the high road when betrayed by friends. We battled fears, real and imagined, late into the night, and steadied their shaky steps when they entered the unknown territory of a new school, team, or social circle.  All the pep talks, time outs, chore charts, and consequences have paved the way to this moment.  Leaving might actually be the Super Bowl event of parenthood, a time to fold our arms and smugly proclaim, “I rocked this parenting thing out of the park!”

Not exactly.  Yes, he’s a capable, intelligent and (somewhat) responsible young man.  He drives and makes decisions and can even vote or join the army if he wants to.  But is he ready?  I remember asking the same question when I left him at preschool a blink of an eye ago. He cried and cried for me, and I was sure I was doing him irreparable harm by leaving.  It’s funny, because my heart hurts in the same way now.  Except he isn’t crying anymore.  He’s on Facebook meeting incoming classmates and looking for a roommate. So, he probably is ready.  But am I?

Parenting seems to be the most selfless profession out there.  After you’ve done all you can to love, nurture and raise this tiny little person, you need to let them go.  As a child, my son believed everything I told him.  Now, he forms his own opinions, and he is influenced by a myriad of voices over which I have no control.  Our children aren’t mini-clones or younger versions of ourselves.  They actually have their own unique identity.  They will think and believe and do what they decide, and we are now on the sidelines, watching.  We silently cheer them on and pray constantly that they will have victory.   We are most definitely now on the bleachers watching their game of life, rather than next to them in the huddle.

As I prepare to release my son into the world, I will shop for all the things he needs for his new “home.”  I will buy fluffy towels and warm blankets, plenty of Command hooks and microwave popcorn.  He will leave packed up with all the essentials, including 18 years worth of unconditional love.   I will watch with wonder, excitement, and a fair amount of sadness, as he leaves us behind and begins his life.  He has a story to write, and he will write it his own way, on his own terms.  I will always be a part of that story, but just one part, the one loving him from afar and praying that God protect him and put good, loving people in his life.  And I suspect, for a few years at least, I’ll be the one helping to pack and organize him at Bed Bath and Beyond.


 

How great was that?!  I just want to thank Susan for sharing her heart with each of us!  If you are interested in reading other parenting blog posts by me, the Dolly Mama, click on the links below:

The Goetz Family Law

Ending Well (and a surprise beginning)

To Pick Up or Put Down (Every Parent’s Never-Ending Battle)

My “Top 10” Epic Mom Fails (With Help from My Kids)

 

**PLEASE FEEL FREE TO SHARE ON SOCIAL MEDIA…THE BUTTONS ARE BELOW**

PHOTO CREDS TO JASON AT WWW.AWAKENEDFILMS.COM

 

Posted in Childhood, Faith, Family, Motherhood, Thanks

Pennies

“The world is fairly studded and strewn with pennies cast broadside by a generous hand. But- and this is the point- who gets excited by a mere penny?”  (Annie Dillard in Pilgrim at Tinker Creek)

Allen hatched a plan at dinner one night many moons ago.  He had been reading the above book (worth the read) and was captivated by an anecdote about a game Dillard used to play in her childhood. She tells the story of how she used to hide her own “precious penn(ies)” in nooks or crannies in trees or sidewalks, drawing chalk arrows to them so a stranger would find the surprise penny and pick it up.  Many times, she would lie in wait to catch a glimpse of the excitement in the finder’s eyes.

Allen’s favorite thought, just like Annie Dillard, was that there are “unwrapped gifts and free surprises” straight from the heart of God, just waiting for us if we open our eyes to see them.  Thus came Allen’s mission for our family:  find these pennies every day and tell us about them at dinner.

What started as a game ended up changing our lives.  Each one of us searched and found many things each day that we believed were “strewn by the generous hand” of God Himself, “surprises” just for us He had hidden along the path, many times with “big arrows” signaling where we might discover them.  We had things like flowers, actual pennies (those were super fun to find), frogs, the best parking space at the mall on a rainy day, butterflies, a kind word from someone, scoring an unexpected goal on the soccer or field hockey field, etc.  Sometimes, we would joke that what we had been given was a “nickel,” a “dime” or even a “quarter,” depending on the magnitude of what it meant to us.

Maybe I’m the only one here, but I have a confession to make.  My life (and mostly my head) is filled with negativity from the news, struggles in my home, animosity on social media, work-place uncertainty, sickness and even the death of those I love, all things that  consume me by what’s wrong with the world instead of what’s right.  And really, truth be told, it causes me to doubt whether or not there is a God who is alive and who actually loves us people down here on this beautiful, but hurting planet.

As the events of the past week unfolded, my mind traced back (and thankfully did so) to the game we played for a whole year at our dinner table, the one that changed my life and maybe can change it again.  Are there terrible things?  Yes.  Are there sad things?  Yes.  Are there things that are just downright wrong?  Yes.  But are they the only things? NO!

I don’t want to stick my head in the sand, but I also don’t want to be swallowed up either.  I want to wisely navigate that tension between the bitter and the sweet of life, compassion rising within me in the bitter and joy enveloping my heart in the sweet.

One does not negate the other.  They both matter.  They both have their place in my day. I would venture to say, however, that I don’t have to look very far to see the bitter.  I am bombarded from sun up until sun down.  And that’s why I want to open my eyes, like Annie Dillard implores me, to search for the sweet, find it, and name it.  Those “pennies” might be just what I need.  And they just might quiet those doubts and remind me of a God who is alive and loves little old me, a God who has put special pennies all throughout my day, pennies just for me.  This is a soothing and healing balm for my soul.

Will you play this game with me, even if it’s just for today?  Pennies from heaven.  Mine today was a beautiful view of the James River from outside our train window on the way to Florida taking Rachel to college.  What was yours?

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