31 Days of the Almost Empty Nest: Halloween Ghosts

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This morning I am awakened by the sounds of the shower from down the hall. Little Jeffrey is up early to report to the high school so the whole retinue can get on the road for another band competition. I’m tired from a late night of working the hot chocolate station for the band concessions during the football game. My arm is sore from the flu shot I got on Thursday, and I slept fitfully for some reason, dreaming of milk and puppies. It’s still dark outside, but I get up to make the boy a good breakfast—he’ll be gone all day and into the evening.

The bacon sizzles and I flip his favorite pancakes while he studies who-knows-what on his phone screen. He feels so far away lately, coming and going like a ghost, moving in and out of the house on my peripheries. I study him studying the screen and I am seized with that feeling again, that terrible sadness that comes with being left behind.

I know the almost-empty is meant to prepare me for the empty-empty but sometimes my heart refuses to budge. The earth is filled with longing and preparation for a sleep that gives new life but my roots long for the sun.

The boys and I have kept this tradition. Every year, before Halloween, we dig out their old radio flyer and march up the sidewalk a mile or so to the Halfway Market. There, we tap on and inspect every pumpkin before making our picks. One for Ted, one for Jeffy, and a small one for the resident dog. Then we trudge back home with our loaded wagon and proudly place said pumpkins on the porch until carving time. This year, with Teddy gone and Jeffrey ghosting in and out of the house constantly, their dad and I picked out two plump pumpkins at Kroger when we were grocery shopping one day. No pomp. No circumstance. We barely got the things carved in time for trick-or-treat.

Last week, I realized it would be the first Halloween with no Ted. So I sent him a care package with some Halloween goodies—a collection of light-up necklaces and glow-in-the-dark stuff to share with his friends. I wondered as I bought the trinkets if it was a waste of money. Surely he will think his mother has lost her mind. “Now if you go out haunting late at night, at least you’ll be visible in the dark,” I wrote, in the Happy Halloween card enclosed. Before I left for the game last night, he texted to tell me to check Facebook for a picture of him and a couple friends sporting some of the “stuff.” “I shared the stuff,” he said. “Some people said nice things about you for sending them.”

It made me smile but I still missed him.

On trick-or-treat night, after all the ghosts and goblins were back inside with bags full of candy, Jeff and I sat outside under the stars a little bit longer. As we sat with Bon, the little girl from across the street skipped over to visit with us for a moment. She had doffed her Cleopatra costume but still wore the remnants of her Egyptian makeup. “I went to every house,” she bragged. And we exclaimed over her fortitude, making much over the huge amounts of candy she amassed. This little sprite always fills my heart and I must fight the urge to scoop her up, pepper her white brow with little kisses. But I realize this would be beneath her. She is, after all, a world champion trick-or-treater.

So I just smile and memorize the curve of her face in the moonlight and sigh as I think how it was only yesterday my boys were small and their short legs were challenged to walk these streets with their pumpkin-shaped buckets full of candy.

And this morning, I make Jeffrey pancakes. And sit with him while he eats, showing him the little watercolor vignettes I’m working on for some friends, reading to him from my bird field guide all the particulars about the blue-gray gnatcatcher.

Before he leaves, he bends over me to hug me tight and kiss me on the cheek.

“I love you, mama,” he says. And then he ghosts away.

This post is part of my 31 Days of the Almost Empty Nest series.  I’m writing in community with the thirty-one dayers. Women all over the world are joining together in the month of October to write every day about something they’re passionate about. Check out some of the other writers here. So much good stuff. To read my first post, with links to all the days, go here. Don’t forget to stop by this post for a chance to win some signed copies of S.D. Smith’s children’s books. And stop by this post for a chance to win The Girlfriend’s Short Stack. 

Almost Empty

Playdates with God: New Friends (and a giveaway!)

 

IMG_6280 Last night, when I took Bonnie out before bedtime, I did what I always do—I looked up. The Hunter’s moon was beaming down, and a ring of white light encircled its pale body. Scientists call this ring of light a halo. I’ve heard of an old saying that goes ring around the moon means rain is coming soon. Apparently, there is some truth to this, as halos are caused by high-drifting cirrus clouds packed with ice crystals. Last night, I read something else interesting about halos. Earthsky.org says,

The halos you see are caused by both refraction, or splitting of light, and also by reflection, or glints of light from these ice crystals. The crystals have to be oriented and positioned just so with respect to your eye, in order for the halo to appear. That’s why, like rainbows, halos around the sun – or moon – are personal. Everyone sees their own particular halo, made by their own particular ice crystals, which are different from the ice crystals making the halo of the person standing next to you.”

This fun little scientific fact reminded me that much of life is all about perspective. And the wonderful thing about perspective is I can choose my view.

This weekend, at the West Virginia Book Festival, I didn’t sell one book. Not one tiny word. But I did make some new friends, and that’s quite the halo. One such friend is S.D. (Sam) Smith, whose work I have known and admired for some time. We have been connected online for a while, but I’ve never had the pleasure of meeting him in person. Let me just say that Sam is a delight. His quirky sense of humor had me giggling all morning long. I had my pocket bubbles with me and we had a good time targeting appropriate bubble-worthy passers-by. Sam’s passion is equipping parents with tools to help them foster holy imagination in their children. You can read more about that at Story Warren, the collaborative website he started for that purpose.

Sam has published two children’s books, The Green Ember and its prequel The Black Green EmberStar of Kingston. Last year, I read parts of The Green Ember to the third graders I read to for Read Aloud West Virginia. They were enthralled. It’s a beautifully crafted fantasy with just enough action but nothing too scary going on. Perfect for young readers.

Anyway, I’m pleased to say that Sam autographed copies of The Green Ember and The Black Star of Kingston for me to giveaway to my wonderful readers! I’m excited to share this new world with you. How’s that for making halos out of ice crystals? It’s all about perspective.

Just leave a comment on this post for a chance to win. If you go check out Story Warren or Sam’s website, let me know that here and you’ll get an extra entry. I’ll announce the winner on next Monday’s Playdates post.

Every Monday I share one of my Playdates with God. I would love to hear about yours. It can be anything: outside, quiet time. Maybe it’s solitary. Maybe it’s loud and crowded. Just find God and know joy. Click on the button below to add your link. I try to visit a few of your stories every week, so if you are a new visitor, be sure to let me know in the comments so I can welcome you. Grab my button at the bottom of the page and join us.

This post is part of my 31 Days of the Almost Empty Nest series. I’m writing in community with the thirty-one dayers. Women all over the world are joining together in the month of October to write every day about something they’re passionate about. Check out some of the other writers here. So much good stuff. To read my first post, with links to all the days, go here.

Almost Empty

31 Days of the Almost Empty Nest: Memoir

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Writing is a powerful search mechanism, and one of its satisfactions is that it allows you to come to terms with your life narrative.”~William Zinsser, “How to Write Your Memoir.”

“Remember,” she said. “Writing is discovery. You will learn things about yourself you never would have imagined as you put word to page.”

I’ve experienced this truth repeatedly over the years, but my jaded self needed reminded. I was in a workshop on writing memoir, and the leaders were giving us a series of writing prompts. Cat Pleska and Fran Simone are successful memoirists and experienced teachers of the craft, but also, they trust in this process. Writing—putting words to one’s own story—has the power to heal.

“There are many good reasons for writing that have nothing to do with being published,” says William Zinsser in the above-mentioned essay.

Yes.

So we wrote. We read George Ella Lyon’s poem “Where I’m From” and wrote a version of our own. Then we chose a few lines from our poems of origin and wrote some more on the three elements of memoir: scene, summary, and reflection. We listened to the brave ones read their scratchings (I wasn’t one). And then we wrote some more.

A friend once told me I must write my memoir. You have to, she said. And I felt an odd sort of churning inside of me. I will have to wait until a few people I love pass into the next life, I said.

So, when I wrote my poem of origin, I was well aware of those elements of my life that made my friend say, you must.

I am from whispers in the dark,
scratchy kisses—scent of beer; open windows, curtains blowing inside-out, fresh-hoed corn,
and Johnny Cash playing on the stereo …

The leaves are almost at peak color in our little valley and the way they scatter in the breeze feel like a slow, peeling away of all the things we hide behind. This almost-empty nest has me thinking about the nest from which I flew. And I remember: writing is discovery.

This post is part of my 31 Days of the Almost Empty Nest series. I’m writing in community with the thirty-one dayers. Women all over the world are joining together in the month of October to write every day about something they’re passionate about. Check out some of the other writers here. So much good stuff. To read my first post, with links to all the days, go here.

Almost Empty

31 Days of the Almost Empty Nest: Falling Star

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It’s hard to get out of bed on these chilly mornings but the dawn holds her own rewards. That dusty rose around the horizon, the many eyes of the sky peering down, scent of leaves and moisture in the air. I stand out in the dew-soaked grass with Bonnie and tilt my head up, up, up, let the feeling of smallness fall over me and captivate.

If I’m going to catch a falling star, I must be alert for it’s free-fall.

Last night when we were walking, I confided to Jeff a feeling of dissatisfaction deep within me lately. “I know I’m tired, and work is frustrating, but it just feels like nothing is as it should be.”

He wondered aloud if I was feeling some of what he went through last year.

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“Maybe you’re wondering what is next. And realizing that maybe it’s nothing. Maybe there is no next thing.”

He was speaking existentially, meaning-of-life kind of talk and I considered it. We’ve had a few losses in that area over the past few years. So we talked about our work and the things that bring us joy and isn’t there always the next thing? This talk helped me realize that my dissatisfaction is coming from feeling like I’ve been taken advantage of lately. From people—one in particular—not God, not the universe.

In light of Jeff’s question, I also considered my disappointment in my book publishing journey—how it hasn’t led where I’d hoped, how my life hasn’t changed significantly because those words were written down and bound between pages. I am grateful for the experience and for the community I have found along the way, but I’ll just admit I’ve had to readjust my hopes. Because I believe every part of life is holy, this hasn’t been a huge day-to-day shift. I trust God enough to open my hands to where he leads. But in terms of the next thing, it has been huge.

So I’ve been asking myself if I trust God that much. Do I trust that he will still use me, even if it is in different ways than I had hoped?

Yes. Yes I do.

If I want to catch a falling star, I must be alert. Sometimes, endings are new beginnings in disguise.

This post is part of my 31 Days of the Almost Empty Nest series. I’m writing in community with the thirty-one dayers. Women all over the world are joining together in the month of October to write every day about something they’re passionate about. Check out some of the other writers here. So much good stuff. To read my first post, with links to all the days, go here.

Almost Empty

31 Days of the Almost Empty Nest: When Obama Came to Town

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I’ll never forget the look on his face. “I’m trying to make a better life,” he said. “I have kids. I have a good job. There’s no way I’m going back to the person I was.”

Helpless. That’s how he felt. He’d been attacked from behind, claimed he didn’t know why. But people don’t want you to get out, he said. Damned if I do, damned if I don’t.

How do you fight against a system on the outside, and the inside? Where do you go to find the help you need?

I remember asking one patient how he did it. For years he lived a life of crime to feed his addiction. Dependent on prescription pain medication. “It’s so hard to beat,” I said. “How’d you do it?”

“Oh, I was in prison,” he said. “I didn’t have a choice. It was the best thing that ever happened to me.”

Something is wrong when prison is the only place our kids can go to get clean.

President Obama was in my neighborhood yesterday, talking about prescription drug and heroin addiction. See, my sweet little home state of West Virginia claims the particular honor of the highest rate of overdose deaths in the nation. And we all feel it. These deaths touch us all in some way.

President Obama said more Americans now die from drug overdoses than they do motor vehicle accidents.

“The numbers are big,” he said. “But behind those numbers is incredible pain for families … ”

I am a mother of two teenage boys. My nest is almost empty. They are good boys: straight A students, church-raised, please-and-thank you kind of kids. I still worry.

It only takes one time.

I need to know there are others out there looking out for us. Our community has fallen victim to dark ways. My husband has forbidden me to run down the out-of-the-way hollows so prevalent in this old farmland. He fears I will run upon a meth lab.

There is not just one cause of this epidemic. Our little community just happens to have the perfect storm: economic hardship and high unemployment, chronic pain/job-related injuries from years of back-breaking work, lax oversight of medical/prescription capabilities, lack of intervention programs, low educational level … the list goes on and on.

It is a system. A system that has failed.

Our president said it would take everyone working together to beat this problem. Everyone.

“… These are our kids. It’s not somebody else’s kids. It’s our kids. It’s not somebody else’s neighborhood. It’s our neighborhood. And they deserve every chance. We’ve got to make sure we’re doing right by them … We’ve all got a role to play,” Obama said.

Good words. And true. No government mandate will cure this ill. Will you join me in prayer for this problem? For our children, for our communities, for the future of our nation? We need a new way—creative leaders to carve out a new path.

And we all need to do our part.

This post is part of my 31 Days of the Almost Empty Nest series. I’m writing in community with the thirty-one dayers. Women all over the world are joining together in the month of October to write every day about something they’re passionate about. Check out some of the other writers here. So much good stuff. To read my first post, with links to all the days, go here.